Drums

drumming

The drum is the most ubiquitous and widespread instrument in Africa, and maybe in the world as a whole. African drums come in all shapes, sizes, and ranges, and are played with the hands or with sticks of some sort. Some African drumming traditions include complex musical languages of different types of tones and slaps, while others focus more on interlocking rhythms or use the drum only as an accompaniment to other instruments.

Drum and dance go hand in hand, and part of the magic of African drumming comes from how the drummers and dancers play off each other’s ideas and energy. For more detail on some of the common dances and rhythms, click here. Although the types of drums listed here represent some of the most widespread and popular, there are many other types of drum found in Africa as well.

The djembe is a drum from West Africa, which has become well-known internationally for its virtuosic style, as well as the variety of different hits used by skilled players (the main ones being bass, tone, and slap). Due to the success of African ballets, djembe has become known mostly as a flashy solo instrument played at incredible speeds, but there’s also an older style of djembe playing which is more focused on sparse rhythms and interweaving with the other drummers’ melodies.

The ngoma is a taller, thinner drum played from the Congo all the way down to Zimbabwe. It has a mellower sound than modern djembes, and is sometimes played with sticks as well as hands. Depending on the region and tribe, it may be found accompanying mbiras or other melodic instruments, played with other drums to accompany dancing, trading solos in an ensemble of up to seven ngoma drums, accompanying singing, etc.

Dunduns are large, lower pitched drums played with a stick. They are played in many of the same areas as djembe, and form a key part of the ensembles used in African ballet. There are also traditions that use the lowest dundun as the solo instrument, with higher pitched dunduns and djembe as accompaniment. A common feature on a dundun is some sort of cowbell, which can be played with one hand while the other plays the main rhythm on the head of the drum.

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