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Djembe drums

Learn about djembe drums from West Africa, make a djembe drum, and perform some freshly-learnt songs for an audience.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Scissors
  • Elastic bands
  • String
  • PVA glue
  • Masking tape
  • Coloured pens or pencils
  • Paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Plant pots
  • Paper cups
  • Old plastic bag (with no holes)
  • African symbols, African prints or fabric, African beads to decorate the drums (optional)

Before you begin

  • It’s up to you whether you use paper cups or plant pots to make your drum – both work well.
  • It may be useful to make a drum before everyone arrives, so you can show them what they’re aiming for.

What’s a djembe?

  • A djembe (pronounced ‘jem-bay’) is a drum originally from West Africa.
  • People play djembes with their hands.
  • According to the Bambara people in Mali, the name of the djembe comes from the saying ‘Anke djé, anke bé’, which translates to ‘Everyone gather together in peace’. The saying also explains a bit about the drum’s purpose.
  • If anyone’s completing their Musician Staged Activity Badge with a different instrument, they could bring their instrument in to play along (or to show two songs they know at the end).

Chat about drums

  1. The person leading the activity should ask everyone if they can name any countries in Africa. They should help people think of a few, for example, Kenya, Ghana, Madagascar, Nigeria, and so on.
  2. The person leading the activity should explain that djembes are drums from west Africa. Everyone should work together to figure out which of the countries they named are in west Africa (for example, Nigeria and Ghana).

Make a drum

  1. Use masking take to stick the bottoms of two cups together.
  2. Decorate the cups with colouring pens and pencils.
  1. Tie an elastic band loosely where the two cups join. It should be over the masking tape.
  2. Lay a plastic bag out flat. Put a cup upside down on the bag and draw a circle around it using a marker pen.
  1. Take the cup away and draw a larger circle around the circle you’ve just drawn.
  1. Cut carefully around the bigger circle with scissors. It’s OK for an adult to help with this.
  2. Put the plastic bag circle on top of the drum. Pull the plastic tight, and use another rubber band to hold it in place. Don’t worry if it’s a bit tricky – this is a great time to work in pairs.
  3. Cut a fairly long piece of wool.
  4. Tie one end of the wool onto the rubber band in the middle of the drum.
  5. Loop the wool up and underneath the top rubber band, then pull it so it’s straight and tie it on with a knot.
  6. Keep zig-zagging the wool around the drum, going over and under the two rubber bands and tying knots to secure it in place.
  1. If anyone wants to, they could create a handle by looping a piece of wool from the rubber band around the top of their drum to the one around its middle.

Rhythm time

  1. Everyone should gather in a circle.
  2. The person leading the activity should play (or clap) a simple rhythm.
  3. Everyone should repeat it back on their drums.
  4. People could take it in turns to play a rhythm for everyone else to copy.
  5. The person leading the activity should teach everyone some of the songs from the ‘West African songs’ below. Everyone should play their drums to help keep the beat.
  6. Everyone should practise together.
  7. Everyone should perform to an audience. They could perform to the parents and carers picking them up at the end of the evening or to another group.

Reflection

Going around the circle, play a short rhythm then say how you found the session – for example, *beat* *tap* ‘fun’. The rest of the group can then repeat this. It’s OK to use the same words as each other to describe the session.

Music can bring us together and help us learn about different cultures. What did you enjoy about the songs? Why is it good to learn about different cultures? (To celebrate our differences, understand others and find similarities.)

Congratulations for playing and having the confidence to perform in front of an audience. How do you think it went? Even if you weren’t happy with your performance, remember you only had a short time to learn something new. This performance doesn’t need to be perfect, but if you keep practising, over time you will get better.

Safety

Scissors

Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people

Rubbish and recycling

All items should be clean and suitable for this activity.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.