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Drums are probably the most widely played instrument in Africa with the possible exception of

the voice. Drums are traditionally used to play an accompaniment for singing, dancing, working
and communicating between villages. Drummers are not typically the most respected members
of their community people with more practical skills such as farmers and builders are
traditionally higher up in society. Drums, however, are the most popular instruments in most
African villages and children are taught to play drums by ear from an early age this is known
as an oral (or spoken) tradition.
In African music repetition is often used to organise the music. Often a repeating pattern or
ostinato is used as a basis for improvisation. Polyrhythms, the technique of using many
sounds or rhythms simultaneously are also important. In West Africa, drum ensembles
have 3-5 players, each with a distinctive method of striking their drum and playing
interlocking patterns. Sometimes other percussion instruments join in, creating a thick
musical texture. Call-and-response is very popular. The chorus repeats a fixed refrain in
alternation with a lead singer, who then has more freedom to improvise. This makes the
music conversational in style and this method of organising sounds can also be heard in
drumming music.
The Djembe Drum (pronounced jem-bay) is a skin covered hand
drum shaped like a large goblet. It is made of a single tree trunk (said
to contain the soul of the tree) which is shaped and hollowed out. The
drumhead is usually made out of goatskin and rope is used to tighten
the skin to tune the drum to the appropriate pitch. The Djembe can
make three different tones the bass tone, the slap tone and the open
tone.
Drum rhythms can imitate well-known phrases. It's said that when
Napoleon was defeated at the battle of Waterloo, the native people in
West Africa knew about it before their English or French governors,
because the news was drummed down the coast from North Africa.
Talking drums are used to send messages, using a combination of
pitch and rhythm to imitate speech.
Talking drums are usually played with
sticks and changes in pitch are achieved by tightening or
loosening the strings which run along the length of the drum. To
do this well requires considerable skill and practice.
The master drummer is usually a senior member of the
drumming ensemble who directs the group, issuing drumming
cues to indicate new sections of music and improvising highly
complicated rhythms over a repeated pattern or ostinato. A
master djembe player is called the djembefola.