The history of the Djembe is a story filled with folklore and myth. According to legend, it is said to have originated from someone who banged too hard on a mortar punched a hole straight through and consequently, had the bright idea to use a goatskin to make a drum, hence the goblet shape of the drum. The word Djembe is said to have its origins in the Mali language of Bambara, which is made up from two verbs Dje which means “gather” and “be” which translates as “peace”.
The djembe drum has been used throughout Western-African culture for many different purposes like reconciling differences between men. Other uses include important community events like births, harvesting of crops, marriages and rites of passage. Each ceremony has its own rhythms, patterns and dances followed by the community.
The instrument has evolved a great deal during the course of its history, with the final rope weave system only implemented in the last two decades. The instrument was for the first time introduced in Europe by bands like Fatala in the 1980’s and have grown in popularity ever since.
Traditionally the Drum was only played by men but recently their female counterparts have made waves as well. A skilled Djembe player is referred to as a DjembeFola, a person that is able to make the Djembe “speak” that is able to tell an emotional story through rhythms and patterns. It is normally played in an ensemble which includes the Dundun drum which provides the baseline. The dunduns are more cylindrical and played with sticks and has a rawhide on both sides.
The djembe is known for its versatility and drum circles are organized throughout the world, which attracts a wide array of percussionists and includes a huge variety of instruments, like bells, congas, bongos, talking drums, shakers, shekeres and claves.
These amazing drums have been used by many famous musicians including; Paul Simon, Ben Harper, Cirque du Soleil, DNA Strings as well as Slipknot, to name but a few. Jembes became popular in South Africa after Richard Carter returned to the country in 1994 and began performing with his band Ubukho Bethu and teaching jembe rhythms and technique.