Dundun

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The Ballet-style dundun set-up

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Dundunba & sangban in traditional set-up with cowbells attached

The dundun is a large, low-pitched drum from West Africa that is played with sticks. Although ensembles vary somewhat from village to village, a typical one will have three dunduns of different sizes, along with three djembe (hand-drums) and various other instruments. The names of the three dunduns, from low to high, are as follows: dundunbasangban, and kenkeni. Each serves a different role in the ensemble and plays different rhythms from the others. All the dunduns are traditionally placed horizontally, fitted with a cowbell on top, and played by a separate person. Each player uses one hand to beat a sparse, powerful bass rhythm on the head of the drum, while playing a somewhat faster rhythm on the cowbell with the other hand. The coordination required for this can be relatively simple or very complex, depending on the two rhythms being played. In recent years (since the start of African ballet companies) another set-up for the three dunduns has also become popular. In this “ballet style” set-up, the three dunduns are stood up on end, so that a single person can play all three, using one stick in each hand (the cowbell must then be played by a separate person).

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