Listen to the rhythm of your heart

“Like family, we are tied to each other. This is what all good musicians understand.” Bill Joel

History of the drum

Thunderous bass; hysterical tones; sharp, clean slaps; whip like flams and waves of rolls – the sounds of the Djembe insinuate themselves into your musical journey – whispering to you and all those beside and around you of your heritage. Speaking all languages, bridging all ages, including all nations – this drum is “Speechless Communication”.

No one knows for certain how the drum came into being or how the first drums looked or sounded. However, all known human cultures have included a musical element. The human race began in Africa. Music, according to oral tradition, began there, too, in the Congo – the heart of Africa.

Historically, drumming has accompanied various modes of communication, including singing, dancing, and storytelling. In Western Africa, people used drums to send and receive spiritual messages, to communicate across great distances, to preserve an oral tradition, to stimulate healing, and to celebrate ritual events and the shift in seasons.

Specific rhythms and their associated dances continue to have significant meaning in Africa. Drums accompany most ceremonies and social rituals – birth, puberty, marriage, ascension to power, death, and burial. The drum is also played for entertainment, commonly accompanying dance, song, and poetry.

African slaves brought their drumming traditions to the new world, where African drum music evolved into new forms and practices, particularly in Cuba. By the twentieth century, African drum music and Afro-Cuban drumming had become key elements of popular world music.

Djembe Drum (jem-bay)

“This grail-shaped hand drum, known to various tribes in West Africa as the “Djembe,” (jem-bay) is central to the musical heritage of the Malinke and Sousou tribes of Guinea in West Africa. The common cultural and historical roots of these tribes can be traced to the great Mali Empire which once encompassed all of present-day Mali as well as most of the coastal regions of West Africa. Its legacy has been preserved throughout the centuries in the praises, lamentations and narrations of a special breed of musicians called “Griot.” Travelling the countryside accompanying themselves on the sacred “cora,” a harp like stringed instrument, they give voice to the cultural wisdoms and historical truths of the descendants of Sundiata, the great warrior of the Mali Empire. They enjoy the special status granted them as historical custodians or, as Guinean author Camara Laye has put it, as “guardians of the word.” “(L Friedberg)

Originally from Mali or Guinea, the Djembe dates back to at least 500 AD. The Djembe is found in Senegal, Mali, Sierre Leone, the Ivory Coast, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, as a sacred drum used in healing ceremonies, rites of passage, ancestral worship, warrior rituals, as well as social dances.

The Djembe drum was already in use during the 14th Century in what was then the Mandingo Empire, now encompassing Mali, Guinea, the Ivory Coast and other parts of West Africa. Some say the drum was already in use by the 8th century. Only with the recent trend toward globalization has the Djembe gained its well deserved massive popularity. An incredibly powerful drum, the Djembe is capable of deep booming lows, and slaps that crack like the sound of lightning.

The Djembe was named after the materials that were used to make the drum. First, the Djembe was carved out of a chunk of the djem tree (a very dense wood found in Mali). Then the drum had a “Be” (goat) skin stretched over the top, thus the name Djembe.

Traditionally, the Djembe is played standing with the drum between the legs and supported with a shoulder harness. It is played with both hands, and sometimes has rattling tongues attached to the rim, that jingle as the drum is being played. The variety of sounds that can be obtained by the different ways of beating the Djembe covers a broad sonic spectrum. It is used both as a solo and an accompanying instrument.

The secret to its seemingly endless spectrum rests, on the surface at least, in the tautness and thickness (relative to the drum body) of the goatskin covering its head. An experienced Djembe drummer can coax enough sound from the drum to make it seem like an exchange between several drums is taking place, when in fact just one drum is speaking.

The drum has been used for healing purposes throughout the world for thousands of years, in tribal societies with their shamanic traditions to communicate with the spirit world, as well as a tool for social integration and to restore harmony. According to West-African wisdom teachings, emotional disturbance manifests as an irregular rhythm that blocks the vital physical energy flow. As regular even rhythms are regarded as a sign of health, these rhythms can heal the person by touching him or her in an immediate and powerful way, removing blockages and releasing tension. Thus dance and drumming serve as preventive remedies, and they help people to become more aware and balanced. According to Layne Redmond, author of When Drummers Were Women, “The frame drums have been used for thousands of years in the act of worship in the Mediterranean world. Ancient sources say that the frame drum was not just a powerful symbol of spiritual presence, it was an important tool for many spiritual experiences.”

The Djembe is also known as the healing drum because of its history as a tool in African healing traditions. African drum masters also call it the magical drum since it has the power to make people dance.

According to current medical research, stress is a cause of 98% of all disease. Not only heart attacks, strokes, immune system breakdowns, but every disease known, with the exception of two viruses, has now been linked to stress. Recent biofeedback studies show that drumming along with our own heartbeats for 15 minutes alters brainwave patterns (increasing alpha) and dramatically reduces stress. So drumming actually “meditates” us!

Ashiko (ah she ko) drums

The Ashiko (ah she ko) drums are indigenous to South Western Nigeria and are used primarily for social music and dance of the same name. According to well known Nigerian artist/bandleader O.J. Okemode, Ashiko means “the world of time” in the Yoruba language. Ashiko is also a West Nigerian word that means “freedom”. It is historic amongst the Ijaw (ijo), as well as the Yoruba peoples. The Ashiko is a hand drum shaped like a tapered cylinder, with the head on the wide end and the narrow end open. Like the doumbek and the Djembe, it produces a lower tone when struck in the middle of the head and a high ringing tone when struck near the edge. Available in various sizes it is built of vertical staves (like a wooden barrel is). It was first introduced to the United States 1933. The Zulu people of South Africa play a drum shaped very much like the Ashiko.

The N’goma drum of Nigeria is hand drum similar to the Ashiko. Drums styled like Ashikos are found in Cuba, Haiti, Brazil and throughout the Americas. In Cuba they are called El Boku’ and are used for playing camparasas at carnivals and festivals.


A cajón (Spanish pronunciation: [kaˈxon] ka-HON, “box”, “crate” or “drawer”) is nominally a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces (generally thin plywood) with the hands, fingers, or sometimes various implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks. Cajons are primarily played in Afro-Peruvian music, as well as contemporary styles of flamenco and jazz among other genres. The term cajón is also applied to other unrelated box drums used in Latin American music such as the cajón de rumba used in Cuban rumba and the cajón de tapeo used in Mexican folk music.

Sheets of 0.5 to 0.75 inches (1.3 to 1.9 cm) thick wood are generally used for five sides of the box. A thinner sheet of plywood is nailed on as the sixth side, and acts as the striking surface or head. The striking surface of the cajón drum is commonly referred to as the “tapa”. A sound hole is cut on the back side. The top edges are often left unattached and can be slapped against the box. The modern cajón may have rubber feet, and has several screws at the top for adjusting percussive timbre.

Originally the instruments were only wooden boxes, but now some versions may also have several stretched cords pressed against the top for a buzz-like effect or tone. Guitar strings, rattles or drum snares may serve this purpose. Bells may also be installed inside near the cords.

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Interactive Talking Drums Sessions

To book a Talking Drums session at your school, office, or anywhere, get in touch with us and we’ll create an interactive learning and fun experience you’ll never forget. Our team is equipped to travel across South Africa if required

“It was FANTASTIC!! My team thoroughly enjoyed themselves. There was constant smiles & laughter! We were not only entertained but also felt rather musically skilled after our hour session. Energy levels were high after the session and the laughter and high spirits continued into the lunch function we had afterwards.”

Justine Stoop – Discovery Financial Consultants

“Everyone together with one objective in mind – to unwind and have fun, whilst appreciating each other’s company – and this is exactly what Talking Drums helped us achieve, every session, without fail!”

Thando Mabandla – Mondi Group

An educationally sound, fun-filled, thrashing experience for ALL!!! Should not be missed at any cost, by any pupil, teacher, adult who needs to believe that everybody is created essentially as a musician. So, DRUM IF YOU DARE TO!!!!!!!!!!

Shirelle Daneil (HOD:Music)
Clifton Preparatory School