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West African Drumming

Karamba Dioubate is going to be focused on principally the djembe drum.  He will bring djembes for some students but we advise you to bring your own djembe for his West African drumming class.   Since Karamba is from Guinea, Guinean rhythms will be at the heart of his instruction though he knows many African rhythms in addition to those of Guinea.  Be prepared to have a great time with this master drummer.  Karamba has been with Kosmos Camp since 2005 (the 3rd year of the event).

The Djembe Drum

djembe is a skin-covered drum meant to be played with bare hands. The Bamana people of Mali have given the origin of the world djembe to the saying “Anke djé, anke bé” which means “everyone gather together in peace”. In the Bambara language, “djé” is the verb for “gather” and “bé” translates as “peace”.  The proper sound is achieved with minimum effort for maximum effect. The key is to either focus or disperse the hand’s energy and to position the hand in the correct place. The bass and tone notes require focused energy (beginners will have the most success by holding their fingers firmly together), while the slap requires dispersed energy (fingers are relaxed).

Hitting the skin with the palm and fingers toward the drum’s centre produces a bass note; hitting the skin near the rim (with the fleshy part of the palm just above the rim) produces the tone and slap. The tone must ring by striking like it’s a hot pan. Beginners may think of the tone and slap as fingers “together” and “apart.” Advanced players will not take the time to make that obvious physical change but will rather make a less visibly obvious change from “focused” to “dispersed.”


Traditionally in Africa an individual needs to spend many years accompanying his master in ceremonies and other festivities before becoming a real djembefola (djembe player). Today in the communities of the “western civilization” learning to play the djembe generally involves finding a master drummer and having private lessons or lessons for small groups of people. Players generally need to learn the basic sounds and traditional rhythm samples (4/4 and 12/8) to be able to follow classes. Many years of playing and learning are needed to be able to produce a sound that is comparable in its quality to that of a master drummer.

Written transcriptions of rhythms tend to be imprecise. Usually only the basic idea of the rhythm is transcribed but the real feeling that it carries can’t be easily put down on paper. This is due to the nature of the West African music – the different types of swing (at least four of them) that are not easily expressible with western notation. For this reason the written material for advanced players is still scarce if not unavailable, while the general and informational literature are readily obtained.