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Djembe Darabuka Tabla
Udu Talking Drum or Squeeze drum

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Djembe is pronounced 'jembe' with the first e short as in 'pest', and the second e long as in 'eel' - we get the silent 'D' from the French spelling which is currently the most popular, although the more African spelling 'Jembe' is gaining. Although its history is as long as any other African instrument, it has only been relatively recently that the Djembe has been common on the world market. In recent years though, it has had a large popularity boom, and now almost rivals the conga in popularity.
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The Djembe has its roots firmly in West African and Guinean culture, and is always associated with dance. Each dance celebrates a different thing, like the passing into adulthood, or sowing the fields etc.

The Djembe produces quite a distinct tone which is lower in pitch than one might imagine. The narrowing of the opening is what causes this lowering of pitch. The drum itself is traditionally carved from a solid piece of hardwood, although fibreglass and similar composite materials are often used in modern commercial designs which are much lighter - important when strapping it on for any length of time. The head is traditionally goat skin as opposed to the calf skin traditionally used on congas and other hand drums. Goat skin tends to be thinner and more responsive to play. Of course these days there are many drums which use a synthetic head, the best of which is probably a version of Remo's Fibrskin. The djembe is played with the hands to produce three main sounds - the 'slap', the 'open tone', and the 'bass tone'.

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Darabuka, Darbuka, Darbouka, Dumbek or Doumbek....

There seems to be a lack of agreement in Western culture as to whether we are talking about different drums, or different names for the same drum. My personal feeling is that it doesn't matter much as even if these drums are different, they certainly sound pretty similar and serve a similar purpose in the varied music/culture in which we find them. Perhaps the biggest difference you might see from one drum to another is what they are made from. I tend to think of them as different types of the one drum rather than different drums.

The Darabuka is found particularly in Middle Eastern / Mediterranean countries but also in the Near and Far East. In particular you might find versions of this drum throughout Arabia - Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt.

You might find versions of the Darabuka made from wood, ceramic, pottery, nickel, or copper, but most likely from brass or aluminium. For example In Pakistan they tend to be called Dumbek and made from brass or copper hammered into shape, and in Turkey they tend to be called darabuka or darbuka and made from cast aluminium - often coated with a vinyl covering. This is the more common version and is used throughout most of Arabia. In common - is the shape, which is similar to a goblet or hour-glass. Often the end with the skin is much wider, with the other - open end - having just a slight flare. Other versions are more symmetrical. The skin is often goat skin which is stretched quite tightly with leather cord or rope, but of course there are modern synthetic replacements. The modern commercial darabuka is mostly an almost symetrical cast aluminium drum and uses a plastic head tensioned by screwing the moulded drum rim over the head rim. Traditionally the darabuka is held under the left arm and played with both hands using both fingertips and hand and also the side of the thumb. It can also be played held between the knees whilst sitting, but this might be cheating!

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The Udu originates in Nigeria and is made of clay with a hole in the side and also one on top. The instrument shown in the picture to the right is a modern version with a third hole covered with a skin which is played with the fingertips as a drum. Otherwise an Udu is not actually a drum at all as the side hole is where the sound is actuated and the resonance of the air inside the pot is modulated by opening and closing the hole at the top. The traditional Udu does not have the third hole with membrane as shown here, but it is a popular modification as it expands the sonic possibilities considerably. It is believed that the udu was invented when a potter accidentally punched a hole in the side of a water vessel he was making and heard the sound.

The word "udu" means simply "pot" in the native language of the Nigerian Ibo tribe, and like many African instruments it traditionally comes in a set of four different sizes - although modern Western musicians who have used the udu like Sting and Miles Davis would tend to use a single pot.

The construction method of the udu is quite important and a pot that has been turned on a potters wheel in the modern western way is unlikely to produce a good instrument. The traditional method involves the bottom half sphere being pounded over a mould with wooden paddles. The top half of the pot is then gradually built up in a spiral by hand. Great care is taken to maintain an absolute even thickness of the pot wall which has a significant effect on the resonance of the clay itself. The pounding of the clay is also important as it lines up the micas and other "shaped" minerals in the clay to produce a better and harder pot.

Talking drum or Squeeze drum
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