During our first visit to Boa Vista, in the summer of 2015, we were introduced to a group of friendly and welcoming drummers. Our friend Thione Sow invited us to see the performance of the African Djembe group. Within half an hour we were experiencing the energy and joy from the African mainland!
Standing barefoot in the warm sand, we could feel the vibrations of the beating drums and we got an insight into the Senegalese culture during this energetic performance. We listened to songs about West-Africa that were accompanied by the rhythm of the djembes.
The African Djembe group is made up of these very talented Senegalese musicians, artists and performers: Tapha Gadiaga (the teacher of the group), Erick Gadiaga, Thione Sow, Pape Sene, Boubacar Gadiaga, Mame Thierno Sow, Bara Gadiaga, Maocto Dioum and Samba Guide.
Dressed in colourful clothes, these guys embrace their Senegalese roots and provide you with an insight into their culture in which dancing and drums are an everyday part of life.
The Djembe as a means of communication
We know the Djembe mainly as a musical instrument that creates a powerful rhythm. According to the Bamana people in Mali, the name of the Djembe comes directly from the saying “Anke dje, anke be” which literally translates to “everyone gather together”. Although nowadays the drum’s purpose is to function as a musical instrument, initially the Djembe was used to communicate to other villages. Every sound consisted of a general message, a phrase that could be heard for over long distances. These phrases in turn have led to the creation of different tones that could only be translated by initiated persons. Because the Djembe is capable of producing a variety of sounds, this instrument was frequently used to transfer these messages in a powerful way.
It is hard to resist the invitation to dance whenever the beat starts!
Not only the audience get enchanted through a Djembe performance, playing the Djembe also affects the drummers: the physical effort that is required during playing of the Djembe not only results in a transpiration but also causes a reaction mentally: the drummer enters a state of trance.
The origin of the Djembe
The Djembe drum originated in West Africa and it has been used as a percussion-instrument in West Africa for more than thousand years. Over time the tradition of the Djembe has spread, and is now prevalent in Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.
Djembe is a skin-covered hand drum shaped like a large goblet and meant to be played with bare hands. It is made up of a frame or shell that is covered by a membrane or drumhead made of rawhide or some other material.
Picture: www. djembe-art.de
The instrument is a member of the membranophone family of musical instruments. These instruments transmit a sound through vibration of a part of the instrument; in the case of the Djembe the skin on which is played.
A tone is created in a vibration depending on the stretching of the skin. The tone in turn reverberates through the soundboard that comes out through the hole at the bottom.
How to play: the basic sounds on a Djembe
There is a wide range of tones that can be produced by the Djembe. The primary notes are generally referred to as “bass”, “tone”, and “slap”. The slap has a high and sharp sound, the tone is more round and full, and the bass is low and deep.
So let’s get started: how do you position your hands?
It is played in the center of the djembe drum.
The hand and arm are relaxed and hit the drum in a slap like emotion. The hand is in pretty much the same position as a tone
The tone is played with the underside of your fingers
The guys from the African Djembe group use an accessoire called Ségè – ségè or tjilling – tjilling that can be used together with the Djembe. They attach it to the back of the Djembe and when they play the djembe it will produce a soft jingling, that accompanies the beats of the rhythm. Usually 2-3 ségè – ségè’s are used per Djembe to support the Djembe musically.
Meet the group: when and where does the African Djembe group perform
The African Djembe group performs almost every night (6 days a week) at 7 pm at Morabeza in Sal Rei. Be sure to be on time, preferably at 6.30 pm so you are guaranteed of a good place to sit!
The African Djembe group performing at Morabeza:
A preview of the performance and an interview with two of the drummers:
Thione Sow and Tapha Gadiaga
If you are interested in playing Djembe yourself, check out this informative blog post to learn more:
For more information about how to play African Djembe you can watch the following you tube tutorial titled ‘How to Play African Drums : Six Sounds of a Djembe Drum’
The use of an African percussion instrument. Hans van Lierop (in Dutch).