The Origins of Drumming

Drumming is not only an essential part of African music and dance, but it is also essential to daily routines of African people. Drums are a foundation for many traditions practiced in African culture and used as a form of communication. Before the transatlantic slave trade, drums were used for rituals in ceremonies including weddings, funerals, and births, and at times of war. After being forced into slavery, Africans tried to keep practicing their musical traditions in America. However, in the 17th and 18th English clergymen tried to stop or limit dancing and drumming traditions, especially on Sundays. Dancing and drumming was limited to holidays, including Christmas and Easter, and therefore they became important holiday traditions to the slaves. Even with these setbacks in place, slaves would rebel and keep their beautiful and sacred musical traditions alive. They would dance and drum in secret, or find other ways to rhythmically accompany dance.  In substitute for drums, slaves would play the banjar, clap their hands, stop their feet, or practice “patting juba’ to accompany dance.

The Djembe

Known as one of the most widely used and popular African drums, the Djembe was invented in 12th century by the Mandike tribe. It is a huge component of rituals practiced in West African countries including Senegal, Mali, and Guinea. At first, the Djembe was only used by griots, who would tell story’s or pass on important religious and cultural information to future generations. Now the drum is used to accompany dances performed at ceremonies like weddings and funerals or festivals. The body of the Djembe is carved out a hollowed out piece of tree bark. Traditionally the Mandika people would use bark from Lenge trees because of its spiritual importance. The ropes on the upper part of the body are used for tuning the drum. The head of the Djembe is made from goat skin, allowing high pitch sounds to be played. The drum can make sounds at three pitch levels named bass (low), tone (medium) and slap (high).

Famous African Drummers

Mamady Keita is a djembe drummer from a small village in Guinea. He is known for his work with the National Ballet of Guinea and for being a drummer and Artistic director for Ballet Djoliba.
Famoudou Konate is another Guinean master djembe drummer. He was recruited by Les Ballets Africains where he played the dununba, sangan, kenkeni drums along with the djembe, and danced. He has arranged pieces that are now well known classics to West African music groups.

The Influence of African Drumming on Music Today

Traditional African music is known for having a unique rhythmic structure known as polyrhythm. A polyrhythm is when several different rhythms are played or sung simultaneously. Polyrhythms are a very prominent aspect of African drumming, and have influenced aspects of todays popular music genres including rap, hip-hop, techno and house. Tribal house music crossover between house music and traditional African music. Usually tribal house music is made up of digital instruments, but sounds from live drummers and other instruments can be combined with it. Today popular genres of music are played at different events like parties and festivals to get people to dance, much like how African drumming is accompanied by dance.

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