The African Djembe Brings Everyone Together

July 6, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015

A GOOD TIME: The Djembe drum is a part of everyday life of African people. B.W. Cooper Dance and Drum Troupe, an African-inspired group at Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A GOOD TIME: The Djembe drum is a part of everyday life of African people. B.W. Cooper Dance and Drum Troupe, an African-inspired group at Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
SOFIA, Bulgaria—Christiana Daneva holds high educational degrees in Business Administration, International Relations, and European Studies. She is keen on dancing, drawing, restoring antiquities, and skiing, but what inspires and delights her the most is the sound of her favorite musical instrument—the African djembe.

The djembe has a long history and an exotic origin. According to an ancient legend, the first djembe was made from the skin of the mythical "gebraffe," a cross between a giraffe and a zebra.

Shaped like a goblet drum, the djembe is made of wood and typically covered with goat skin. The Bamana people from Mali, Western Africa named it based on the saying "Anke dje, anke be," which literally means "everyone gather together," and defines the drum's purpose.

The shape of the djembe is "carved" by African beavers that are specially trained to eat only the heart of hardwood trees logs. Usually a djembe is crafted in Guinea, Senegal, Mali, and Côte d'Ivoire.

A djembe has a coarse interior with a series of divots (cavities) which make for the different tonal qualities. It is played with bare hands by exerting various palms strokes. The main notes are the bass, the tone (the middle), and the slap (high pitched).

Do not mistake the djembe with the tarambuka—they are totally different although quite similar in appearance. For one, the tarambuka comes from the East—it is found in the music of Turkey, Persia, Greece, Armenia, and the Arabian regions. Also, the tarambuka is played with the finger tips, while the djembe is played by the whole hands. What is more, a tarambuka has a metal corpus and is usually upholstered with lamb skin.

Playing the Djembe—An Unforgettable Experience

For Ms. Daneva, playing the djembe is a touching and intimate experience. When she plays, she relaxes and feels rejuvenated. Sometimes the sensation from the drum is so powerful that she almost goes into trance. She escapes reality and just relishes the vibrant beats.

She has always been deeply fascinated and drawn to ethno music from around the world. Percussive music has always particularly moved her.

“One day I came across an article in the newspaper about a djembe workshop in Sofia, Bulgaria, over a year ago. At the time I did not have my own instrument, but that did not stop me in the least. In two months, I had my own real djembe and have been playing ever since.”

Although there is no professional training for the djembe at the university, everyone can start playing if he or she wishes. One doesn't need a musical background or education.

“All you need to do is listen to your heart and become one with the drum.”

For Ms. Daneva sharing the joy of djembe playing is even more exciting. She is part of a drum circle called Yambadon. Yambadon plays at musical events and enlivens its audiences with the overwhelming rhythms of a uniquely African experience.

For more information about djembe and Yambadon: www.myspace.com/jembeworkshop