Thursday, March 13, 2008
The Djembe of West Africa energizes dancers and drum circles across the globe
The French were instrumental in studying and describing African drumming to the world. However, colonization by the French is a sore spot for many West African people, and spelling jembe with the "d" can be a painful reminder of that. Since independence (1958-1960) African governments have been working toward indigenous ways of spelling their local languages in accordance with international standards of phonetic transcription.
It is played in ensemble with the "dunun" drum (dununba, sangban, kenkeni), bells, with individuals playing different parts that lace together intricately to weave a delicate rhythmic tapestry. Dancers are accompanied by djembe and dunun drummers, including a lead djembe player, or soloist, who will play rhythms which align with the dancer's movements as they make them, and whose playing will signal changes in the dance steps, as well as the beginning and end of a piece.
The djembe is said to contain three spirits: the spirit of the tree, the spirit of the animal of which the drum head is made, and the spirit of the instrument maker. It is legend that the djembe and/or the tree from which it is created was a gift from a Djinn or malevolent demigod, male counterpart to the more familiar Genie. Properly crafted djembe drums are carved in one single piece from hollowed out trees called Dimba, or Devil Wood.