The djembe drum
originates from Africa.
Here's how the djembe is growing in popularity all over the world.
There is general agreement that the traditional distribution of the djembe is geographically associated with the Mali Empire, which dates back to 1230 AD and included parts of the modern-day countries of Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, and Senegal. However, due to the lack of written records in West African countries, it is unclear whether the djembe predates or postdates the Mali Empire. It seems likely that the history of the djembe reaches back for at least several centuries, and possibly more than a millennium.
The name djembe comes from the Bambara people in Mali and means “dje” for gather and “be” for peace – so one could say “to gather in peace”.
From the 1950s onwards, the djembe drum started to appear in countries outside of Africa. The traditional ways of playing the instrument were and still are taught all over the world. The new millennium has seen a progress unlike anything before when it comes to the creation of new generation djembes.
The evolution of the djembe in the Western world is quite remarkable. Shells made of fibre glass and recycled wood fibre instead of tree trunks. Animal skins swapped for synthetic drumheads. The tuning of the drum made easy by adding tension to the rim (ring), using a simple square-shaped drum key and no more ropes.
Popularity of the djembe has grown mainly because of two reasons. First, the drum is unique regarding its sound frequency range. Many other rhythm instruments which are played with hands, including bongos and congas, do not have the low end bass that the djembe has. With this advantage, the djembe shines in both low and high pitched sounds.
The second reason has to be globalization. For example, Eastern cultures have spread across the world and the djembe is one of the best drums to play along kirtan and bhajan events, where people come together and sing devotional songs. Nowadays, you can see drummers playing the djembe even in night clubs to the latest electronic dance music tunes.
These are the perfect times to learn the djembe in a modern way, playing rhythms that actually work while suiting various settings.
My name is
Ian Mikael Kirss
and here is where I get to give.
The journey of learning, performing and teaching in the digital age.
I started learning classical piano in music school at 7 years of age and graduated 8 years later. My dad started showing me around the drum kit when I was 10 and 4 years later I received an endorsement contract with the Paiste cymbal company. Around that time was when I first encountered a djembe drum.
It was 2005 and I had been giving some of my first drum set lessons as an independent teacher. The family drum show, including my dad, my sister and me, was changing from a ‘let’s carry three drum sets’ format to a ‘let’s carry some djembes plus other percussion’ format. During that period I was finding ways how to play all the awesome drum set beats I’d come to know, using only my hands on a single 14-inch Remo djembe. For many years to come, I would not participate in a single djembe lesson and check zero djembe tutorial videos online.
Safe to say, learning this incredible drum by myself led me to a unique technique. The family drum show got all the beats it could ever need and around 2010 I was given a platform to play the djembe at kirtans, which are gatherings where people come to sing devotional songs in a call and respond manner. These events grew so much that I found myself playing regularly all over Estonia, Koh Phangan (Thailand) and Bali (Indonesia) in the winter months, including an event at BaliSpirit Fest.
Before the djembe took over the spotlight from the drum set in my life, I was in a few heavy metal bands playing the set like there’s no tomorrow. In 2007 I got to join the U.S. rock legend W.A.S.P for their UK Tour as the support act in major cities. Who knew that touring can make you forget where breakfast is served every morning due to all hotels being laid out differently.
For the past 10 years I’ve personally experienced exactly what does and does not work when playing the djembe in different scenarios. Everything from performing by yourself, playing to a backtrack, doing live shows in clubs and lounges, supporting a guitar and harmonium player, to jamming with a hang drummer on the streets or giving your best in a professional recording studio.
With all this in mind, the Djembe Master brand was born. This is my chance to give what I have learned over the past two decades and I’m doing it with free videos and full-length masterclass courses.
Thanks for being on this rhythmic journey with me!