Made in The Gambia: Djémbé

Djémbé is a traditional African musical instrument and is very popular in the Gambia. It was used in the old days for entertainment and sending information, but now it is used for entertainment. The sound of the Djémbé is an intoxicating sound that makes you want to dance whenever you hear the rhythms. Djémbé is Mandinka word for this musical instrument. In Wollof it is called ˝Sabaar˝.

In the Brikama Craft market, lots of craftworks can be seen and experienced. One of them is the making of the Djémbé.

They use the bush mango woods to make the wooden part of the Djémbé. Animal skins are used to cover the upper part’s opening whilst ropes are used to tie it, which allows it to produce a fantastic sound.

The bush mango is 60 to 65cm high and has a trunk diameter of 30 to 35 cm, making it perfect for the carving of Djémbé. Parts of the log are taken to the workshop for shaping. First, carvers remove the bark from the log. Next, the base or the stand of the Djémbé is made. After carving the curvy base, woodcarvers continue with carving out of the opening from both sides. After that is done, a smaller carving tool is used to smoothen the edges and highlight the curves; then sandpaper is used to smoothen it completely.

The animal skin is placed under the sun for many days until it is dry enough. The most common animal skin used is the goatskin since it has a beautiful mix of colours like brown, black or reddish-brown, which highlights the looks of the Djémbé. When dry, the hair of the skin is shaved off and cut into a circular shape to fit the round opening. Some leave the edges to decorate the Djémbé. Then a strong rope is used to tie the Djémbé tightly.

The Djémbé is a musical instrument that is used by all ethnic groups in The Gambia. It is played in festival, ceremonies, musical concerts and most important of all cultural display.

Special thanks to Foroyaa Arts, Tradition and Culture institute, their founder Omarkebba Conteh and respected members for portraying the process of making the Djémbé for us.

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