Djembe Brand Reviews:Authentic African Djembes | Remo | Toca | Meinl | LP | Tycoon | Indonesian Djembes | Ghana Djembes
Authentic African Djembes
The djembe drum originated in West Africa in an area that now stretches between Western Guinea and Eastern Mali. Over time the tradition of the djembe has spread, and is now prevalent in Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.
Of these djembe hot spots, the highest quality instruments come from Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Senegal, and each location has developed distinctive takes on the djembe drum which greatly effect the end sound of the instrument. Though there are many commercially produced djembes on the market, nothing can top the sound quality of a truly authentic djembe that has been carved from a single piece of hardwood by master drum builders in West Africa.
These djembes can cost anywhere from $200 - $600, but here at Djembe Review we recommend saving up the extra cash to buy an upper-tier drum, as it is well worth the relatively minor price bump to own a superior quality djembe drum.
Explore Authentic African Djembes from Djembe Direct Here
(A full sized djembe is normally around 13" x 24"). Though the drum head, rope, and rings will change over time, you are really paying for the quality of the shell -- which will last you a lifetime!
~Here are some characteristics of the different djembe styles:
Mali: These djembes are very round in appearance, with a large curved bowl and stem (as seen in the DrumSkull Djembe above). The throat of Mali djembes are typically a bit on the larger side, which aids in creating a full sound with lots of volume. Along with the djembes of Guinea, Mali is famous for creating some of the most professional instruments available today. These drums have a characteristically strong bass and tone, with a crisp slap and excellent projection. Mali djembes are commonly made from the following wood types -- Lenke (Lingué), Haré (Guéni), Dugara, and Djalla (Akajou, Bois Rouge).
Guinea: The evolution of the djembe in Guinea has yielded a drum with a very 'tight' sound spectrum, which is favored by many players. In appearance these drums are often much straighter than the Mali style, more angular, and feature a squared bowl and relatively small throat opening. These adaptations create an extremely strong slap while still allowing for the full spectrum of bass and tone as well. These drums have also developed a reputation for elaborate shell decorations, are predominately made of the wood - Haré (Khadi), Lenke (Lingué), Djalla (Akajou, Bois Rouge), and Beng (Douki), and have a bottom ledge carved to secure the lower ring and prevent slippage.
Ivory Coast: These djembe drums appear straighter than those of Mali and Guinea, while maintaining excellent sound quality. Carved from seasoned Iroko wood, Ivory Coast shells are typically on the thicker side, yet are still lighter than the average drum -- making them ideal for playing while standing or travel. These djembes are usually a little less expensive than drums from other areas, but are considered to be high quality instruments. Sound wise, they have a full tonal range with clear distinctions between bass, tone, and slap. They also have a lower ledge carved, and are often decorated with a few cascading rings at the bottom of the stem.
Senegal: The djembes of Senegal are very unique in design, differing greatly from all of the other styles. They feature an elongated hourglass bowl shape, and typically a widely flared stem. The treatment of the stem itself has formed into two sub-styles, one that flares out dramatically at the base, and the other that curves in a subtler inward fashion. Overall, this interesting shape yields a dry and crisp sound quality with a thunderous bass, large tone, and high slap. These drums are almost exclusively carved from the Dimba tree, which is a very dense African hardwood.
~If you are looking for an authentic African instrument, we recommend visiting Djembe Direct for high quality djembe drums available online. Also, Drumskull Drums is another great source for traditional top-tier African djembes if you're willing to pay a bit extra for superior craftsmanship. (Pictures of the various African djembe styles can be viewed in our Image Gallery, and you can see traditional djembe drums in action on our Videos page.)
Remo Percussion is most famous for their synthetic drum heads, but are arguably the most popular commercial djembe manufacturer as well. They carry essentially 5 lines of djembes, each with unique features. The lines include: Key-Tuned Djembes, Festiveal Series Djembes, Rope Tuned Djembes, Signature Series Djembes, and Floating Ring Djembes. All of their djembe drums are completely synthetic, and feature various types of 'Acousticon' shell materials with complex polymer heads.
This modern approach to the djembe has been extremely successful for Remo, as the end products produce a satisfying range of sounds from high slaps to deep bass tones. The durable and lightweight 'Acousticon' shells deliver excellent projection, and in combination with synthetic heads Remo djembes are unaffected by weather conditions. These drums are also vegetarian/vegan friendly. Also, a heavy-duty rubber bottom protects the shells from ground impact, and the wide selection of cotton print fabric finishes provide great visuals across the different drum lines. Though these drums offer a very different sound than traditional djembes, they are an excellent option for the modern hand drummer. (All Remo products are manufactured in the USA.)
Explore Remo Djembes at X8 Drums Here
~Here is a breakdown of Remo's Djembe Lines:
Key-Tuned Djembes: The Key-Tuned Series Djembes are the most popular in Remo's offering. This category includes the Designer Series Djembes, with the only difference being the addition of a graphic to the head of the djembe. As you can see in the image above, these drums offer an easy yet sturdy key-tuning system, alleviating the woes of the traditional rope-tuning method. The shape of the drum roughly follows a traditional form, which makes it possible to create the tones you would expect from a djembe drum. The Key-Tuned Djembes have had great success as the most 'user friendly' commercial djembe in the world. With features like portability, tunability, durability, and playability, it’s no wonder why it has become the choice for thousands of professional and recreational drummers. The djembe sizes range from 10" x 24" all the way up to 18" x 28", and are priced in the $150 - $300 range.
-Below is a product video to give you a taste of what these djembes are like:
Signature Series Djembes: Curently there are two models available in the Signature Series. The first are the Paulo Mattioli Djembes, which are the highest end of the Remo spectrum, and offer the most authentic sounds possible from a synthetic djembe drum. The shell is shaped more traditionally than the Key-Tuned Djembes, and the addition of a routed bearing edge and the innovative Nuskyn head creates warm goat-like tones (whereas the Fiberskyn and Skyndeep heads on the Key-Tuned drums create a brighter and ringier sound). This model features an inline tuning stystem to keep your djembe nice and tight. It is available in a 13" and 14" model, and costs from $350 - $400. If you are looking for a traditional sound and feel from a modern synthetic drum, then this is the best option on the market. Below you can hear this djembe in action:
(warning: the player is a bit eccentric...)
The 2nd Signature Series Djembe is the Leon Mobely model. This is basically a custom Key-Tuned Djembe that has been made to Leon Mobley's artistic specifications. It comes in the same sizes as Key-Tuned Series (along with the same prices), and features an Adinkra fabric design.
Floating Ring Djembes: The new Floating Ring Djembes are designed by Paulo Mattioli, taking the innovation from his Signature Djembes and adding a traditional rope tuning system to it. The result is an extremely high quality synthetic djembe drum with a look, feel and sound similar to an authentic African djembe. Like the Signature drums, the Floating Ring Djembes come in 13" and 14" sizes, and cost around $250 - $350. They feature the same Nuskyn Type 8 Tucked Drumhead, Precision Routed Bearing Edge with aluminum ring reinforcement, Black Steel Counterhoop, and Light weight AA Advanced Acousticon drum shell found on the Paulo Mattioli Signature Series Djembe. Djembe Review recommends these djembes highly.
Festival Series Djembes: The Festival Series Djembes are pre-tuned to a set pitch. This makes them excellent choices for younger players and for recreational use. They come in 8", 10" and 12" sizes, and are offered in several flashy designs. They are strudy, affordable, light weight and include a strap which makes them extremely portable as well. Also, these djembes are environmental friendly, as the shells are manufactured with 100% recycled wood fiber. This is an entry level drum, and is well suited for drum circles, jams, and educational purposes.
Rope Tuned Djembes: Remo's Rope Tuned Djembes are constructed with the same quality materials as the Key-Tuned Djembes, but feature a traditional rope and knot tuning system for those that prefer a more authentic style drum. They come in one size - 8" x 16" and weigh in at less then a mere five pounds. This little hand drum has a big sound, can also be played with thin drum sticks, and will cut through any drum ensemble or band. This line is best suited for recreational and educational use.
~If Remo djembes seem like they might be a good fit for you, we recommend you check out Musician's Friend and Music123 for the best deals online.
Toca is another one of the top manufacturers in the commercial djembe world. They are one leg of Kamen Music Corporation, and were created to focus on Afro-Cuban percussion instruments to serve the blossoming hand drum culture in the US. Their drums offer a distinctive choice in style, design, and sound, and their djembes have been very successful. Toca djembes are accessibly priced, and give players and percussionists an alternative choice when looking for hand percussion instruments.
Essentially they carry two types of djembe drums -- African style djembes (wood with rope tuning), and PVC djembes with goatskin heads. The latter models won 'Best of Show' at NAMM 2007. Additionally, these hybrid djembes are split into the rope tuned and mechanically tuned models. These drums are a modern take on the djembe, and while Remo djembes are completely synthetic, Toca's use of goatskin heads on PVC shells give these djembe drums much more of a traditional sound. Additionally, these instruments are surprisingly lightweight, durable, and resonant.
(Toca djembes are manufactured in Indonesia.)
Explore Toca Djembes at X8 Drums Here
~Here is a breakdown of Toca's Djembe Lines:
Synergy Freestyle Djembes: The Synergy Freestyle models are arguably Toca's most popular hand drum. These djembes are made through a patented process that shapes PVC piping into the shell, and they are headed traditionally with goatskin (though these skins are on the thinner size, as they are not from African animals.) The end product is an affordable hybrid djembe that is portable, durable, and capable of creating great sounds with great projection. These djembes are extremely popular for recreational use, educational purposes, and drum circles.
They come in various sizes and styles which are created by applying patterned fabric to the shells. There are 7", 9", 10", and 12" models, along with the popular 14" 'Cannon' size. All drums have a rubber ring at the bottom to protect the shell, and are capable of making a bass, tone, and slap. The 12" and 14" models sound most traditional, whereas the smaller djembes produce more of a doumbek sound. The price range for these drums is $50 - $175 depending on the size, style, and dealer, and are an excellent choice if you are looking for something affordable that is easy to transport and easy to play.
Synergy Mechanically Tuned Djembes: These models carry over all of the same characteristics as the Freestyle djembes, but tout one additional feature: mechanical tuning. As pictured above, this system takes the hassle out of tuning your drum, and also makes head replacement quick and cost effective. This line comes in 9", 10", 12", and 14" models, along with several styles. The tuning lugs themselves are covered with a rubber sleeve to prevent the hardware from pushing into your legs during play, and the 14" models come with a free bag. Also, the shells of these drums were seamlessly created with a newly designed bowl shape for optimal bass tones. Across all of Toca 's PVC djembes, the bass tones are huge and resonant -- more so than on the average traditional drum. These models are still relatively cheap, but cost a little bit more than the roped tuned djembes.
Synergy Rope Tuned Wood Djembes: These djembes are made with wood that is legally harvested from plantations in Indonesia. There, the drums are lathed and handcrafted by local musicians. The hand carved Mahogany hardwood makes an environmentally conscious drum that is still capable of producing great sounds. Toca offers 4 styles that are hand painted and kiln dried, with 20 coats of teak oil used to protect and preserve the wood. The manufacturing process allows for uniform shell thickness, and low stretch rope and authentic goat skin heads finish off the construction. This line is offered in a 7", 8", 10", and 12" model that range in price from $50 - $175. As far as sound is concerned, these drums are able to approach the traditional sound of an authentic African djembe, and are capable of producing a clear bass, tone, and slap. If price is an issue but you are looking for an authentic style djembe, then this line is a great option -- but -- if an authentic sound is truly what you desire, we recommend saving up for a drum from West Africa.
Synergy Pro African Djembes: The Pro African series is at the top of Toca's offering. These drums are the most authentic across their various lines, and have many superior features to their other models. In addition to all of the features listed above for the Rope Tuned Wood Djembes, the Pro African Djembes also offer: Increased rope runners and three rings that allow for more stable tuning while eliminating skin slippage, traditional African carvings on inside of shell, and lateral groove/rough surfaced carvings on the interior bowl to reduce overtones. The Pro djembes come in 10", 12", and 13" sizes, and are the priciest djembe drums Toca carries. With djembes, you really do get what you pay for -- and this line offers excellent sound quality and craftsmanship.
To hear what Toca Djembes sound like, check out the following video links:
Michael Wimberly on Toca Synergy Djembes
Jamal Mohamed's Freestyle Djembe Drumming
~If Toca djembes seem like what you're looking for, check out X8 Drums - Musician's Friend - and Music123 for great deals on Toca products.
Meinl Percussion is of German origin, and are a top competitor in the world of ethnic percussion instruments. Though most famous for their cymbal offering, they produce an array of high quality hand percussion products. Meinl is constantly pushing the envelope of innovation, blending tradition with modern creations. Their products are manufactured and distributed all over the world, and are favorites among professionals and hobbyists alike.
They carry 8 lines of djembe drums. African style djembes are their most popular, but they also carry a range of hybrid and synthetic drums with modern touches. Meinl offers many sizes and styles -along with bags, stands, and other fun accessories. When looking for a commercial djembe, Meinl drums are right up there with Toca and Remo as far as popularity and quality are concerned. These instruments (like most mass-produced products) may not be authentic, but are a viable alternative to a real thing.
Explore Meinl Djembes at X8 Drums Here
~Lets take a closer look at Meinl's Djembe Lines:
Headliner Series Wood Djembes: These djembes are Meinl's most popular mechanically tuned model. They are 12" x 23 1/2", made of staved rubber wood, and come in three colors. They feature 8 mm strong tuning lugs, 2 mm rounded rims, original tuning brackets, black powder coated hardware, and hand selected goat heads. They are extremely easy to tune, are quite durable, and costs around $300.
Professional African Djembe: This model is Meinl's latest. The Professional African Djembe is carved from a solid piece of Mahogany Wood (12" x 24") and fitted with a hand selected goat skin head. They use the traditional Mali Weave tuning system with high quality HTP rope, stringing thirty vertical runners keeps the head in tune, properly balanced, and looking proud. Of all of Meinl's djembes, this is the closest to an authentic African drum, and it runs around $200. The dense plantation grown mahogany wood is far more resonant that the rubber wood used on similar commercial drums, and is a sustainable alternative to the West African tree that are used in traditional djembe construction.
Floatune Series Djembes: Floatune drums come in wood and fiberglass models. These drums feature a mechanical tuning system that eliminates the need to drill into the shell - thus creating a more resonant key-tuned djembe. These drums are 12" x 24 /14", and include: True Skin Goat Heads, 8 mm strong tuning lugs, 3 mm rounded SSR-Rims, Easy tuning and comfortable change of heads, Rubber pads and lug placement offer perfect playing comfort, Floatune Tuning System, and Chrome plated hardware. This is Meinl's flashiest and most expensive djembe, and is favored among rock percussionists.
Rope Tuned Wood Djembes: These models are the most popular overall. They come in various styles, and are the most affordable. Additionally, these drums come in several sizes. These djembes are great for recreational and educational purposes, and most models include a bag!
~If Meinl djembes seem like a good fit for you, we recommend you check out Musician's Friend and Music123 for the best deals online.
Latin Percussion is known as the top manufacturer of world percussion instruments on the Latin side. Congas, Bongos, Timbales, and the like are their bread and butter, and they are a long established, well respected brand.
Explore LP Djembes at X8 Drums Here
LP also carries 4 models of djembes. These drums are all very similar in construction to the Meinl djembes, except that LP's are all key tuned.
The Galaxy Giovanni Djembe is LP's highest quality model. It is made of a solid piece of North American Ash, and retails around $500. It is a full sized 12 1/2" x 25" drum with gold plated LP Comfort Curve Rim and key rods. Additionally, a special finishing process brings out the deep, rich grain of the wood under a high-gloss shine. Though this is a very attractive drum, we feel that for the money -you might as well pick up an authentic African djembe.
The Aspire Tunable Djembe is the most affordable LP model. This drum has a vague djembe shape, and is made of Siam oak. It doesn't pack the power of other models, but is priced for the percussionist on a budget.
Lastly, LP offers the Aspire Bowl Djembe and the LP Djembe. These drums fall into the middle price range. Much like the Meinl Headliner Djembe, these drums come in many vibrant colors ways, have sturdy metal hardware, and hand selected goat heads. They are capable of producing bass, tones, and slaps, and are a synch to tune. Of LP's djembe offering, this is our top pick!
~If LP djembes seem like what you're looking for, check out X8 Drums - Musician's Friend - and Music123 for great deals on LP products.
Tycoon Percussion is a company dedicated to achieving and maintaining the highest standards of percussion instruments throughout the world. They are the only company in the hand-percussion industry that wholly owns their own factory, located in Bangkok, Thailand. In fact, many other companies purchase their instruments for re-branding.
Tycoon offers several models of both key tuned and roped tuned djembes. The mechanically tuned lines include the Master Series, Concerto Series, Artist Series, Supremo Series, and the Signature Series - all of which are stave built out of Siam oak, and equipped with metal hardware and goatskin heads. Though these djembes are easy to tune and come in several color options, they are best for recreational use and educational purposes. We recommend Tycoon's African style djembes over the key tuned models.
Explore Tycoon Djembes at X8 Drums Here
On the flip side, Tycoon teamed up with the folks over at Dancing Drum to create the Dancing Drum Signature Series Djembes. These drums use premium goatskin heads, traditional rope tuning, and come in 3 sizes. Though Tycoon also carries 4 other lines of African style djembes, the Dancing Drum Series are the most authentic, the best value, and create the best sounds!
~Interested in Tycoon djembes? Check out X8 Drums for great deals online.
There are many djembe drums available on the web that have 'African' in their product name, but not all of them are actually from Africa. Often times these drums come from Indonesia, but are made in the 'African' style. These djembes can range from poor cut-outs all the way up to high quality professional instruments that can meet any player's needs. In fact, many notable djembe brands now import their entire djembe offering from factories in Indonesia or Thailand - having the end products created to individual specifications in collaboration with master carvers.
Explore Indonesian Djembes at X8 Drums Here
Toca, Meinl, and X8 Drums are a few examples of brands that offer these djembes, and though they may not always be the same quality as authentic instruments, these drums are often capable of creating outstanding sounds. Still, it is important to make sure to find out exactly where your djembe is coming from, because it can often be quite confusing to find the true source. That being said, if you are purchasing a djembe from any of the major brands, you should feel secure that you will be receiving a quality instrument - and not just a knock-off.
~To hear what these djembes sound like, check out the product videos over at X8 Drums.
Though Ghana has a beautiful music tradition, the djembe drum was not historically one of their core instruments. Because of this fact, djembes coming out of Ghana are typically of a lower quality than that of their neighboring countries such as Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Senegal. The wood is typically softer, the craftsmanship less thorough, and the decorations are often quite colorful and elaborate.
Explore African Djembes at Djembe Direct Here
Due to all of these factors, the sound quality suffers quite a bit, and these instruments are often dubbed as 'tourist' djembes by advanced players. This is not to say that all drums from Ghana are of poor quality, but simply that we recommend making sure to know where in Africa your drum is coming from before purchasing. On the whole, Ghana djembes are much less expensive than other drums, which does make them a good choice for educational purposes and drum circles.
~Interested in buying a djembe from Ghana? Djembe Direct has a wide offering.
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