Traditional African instruments

Music from different areas of Africa

African drums

A Meinl African-style rope-tuned wood djembe
Djembe drum

  • They are usually made from wood, metal, earthenware or large gourds, which are hard-rinded fruit.
  • They come in different shapes. These include tubular drums, bowl-shaped drums and friction drums. Some have one head, others have two.
  • They come in different sizes. The bigger the drum the lower the note. The more tension in the drum head the higher the note produced.
  • They are played using hands, or sticks, or both.
  • They sometimes have rattling metal and jingles attached to the outside, or seeds and beads placed inside the drum.
  • They are sometimes held under the armpit or with a sling.

One of the best-known African drums is the West African djembe (pronounced zhem-bay). It is shaped like a large goblet and played with bare hands. The body is carved from a hollowed trunk and is covered in goat skin.

The djembe drum

A youth playing a talking drum at a durbar

Talking drums imitate the rhythms and intonations of speech and have strings stretched between the skins at either end. The drum is played under the arm using a stick and squeezing the strings makes the pitch of the drum higher. It is also known as a donno.

Talking drums

A dun dun is a bass drum. Often played in groups, they are made of cow skin and sit on the floor. They are also played with a stick.

They are double-headed and belong to the family of hourglass-shaped pressure drums. They are played with a beater. The drums can be used to imitate speech patterns or as signals to make announcements or warnings. The pitch of the note is changed by squeezing or releasing the drum's strings with the arm.

Dun dun
A dun dun