African Drumming and African Drums

What is African Drumming?

African drumming uses many different types of drums and techniques. One of the more popular African drumming styles in Melbourne uses a goblet-shaped hand drum called the Djembe and up to three bass drums called Dun Duns. Dun Duns are played with sticks and, in some regions, metal beaters and bells. The word “dundun” is a generic word used to describe the set of three bass drums. In the West African country of Guinea where this style of drumming originated, each dun dun has a different name. The small or high-pitched dun dun is called the Kenkeni. The middle dun dun is called the Sangba, and the large or low-pitched dun dun is called the Dudumba. Although traditionally each dundun was played by a separate player, the three may be linked together and played vertically using two sticks. This style of playing the dundun is known as “Ballet Style”.

In Africa drums are used for a variety of purposes including ceremonies and healing but also for dancing, relaxation, and enjoyment.  In historical times drums were also used as a means of communication between groups. All drums “talk” including the djembe drum. All African cultural groups have drums that “talk”, and these drums may be different depending on the culture and ethnic group. Sometimes in the West, people refer to drums that can change their pitch as talking drums, however these are not the only drums regarded as talking drums by people in Africa.

African drumming rhythms have also been used traditionally to accompany work related chores.

There is a djembe rhythm in Guinea called the Kassa, which was used traditionally to inspire agricultural workers in the field while planting, weeding, or harvesting their crops. A group of djembe and dundun drummers would play the Kassa to the workers, to help them get through their hard labour and the monotony of their work. In West Africa drums are used to commemorate all stages of life; when a person is born, when they come of age, when they plant and harvest crops, when they pass away to the ancestral realm and so on…. all these significant events have their own rhythms played on the djembe and other African drums.

Types of African Drums

There are many different types of African drums, but here are some drums that I use in my African drumming classes in Melbourne


The djembe is one of the most well-known African drums in the world. It is shaped a bit like a wine glass with a narrow base that expands into a rounded bowl near the top. The skin is affixed to the top of the drum by a system of ropes and metal rings which are then connected to a ring at the narrow end of the base where the stem of the drum starts. The skin is made from goat hide and is tuned high by tensioning the ropes.


The dundun’s body is in the shape of a cylinder with both ends being of the same diameter. Usually made of wood, they come in three different sizes. The dun dun has a skin stretched across each end. The skins are connected to each by a network of ropes that run from top to bottom. Stretching or loosening the ropes changes the tuning of the drum. Each dun dun is tuned differently with the smaller dun duns being higher in pitch than the larger dun duns. However dun duns are not tuned as high as the djembe drum and provide the bass notes or lower end to complement the more high-pitched sound of the djembe in the African drumming ensemble.


The Batá is a three-drum set that may be struck by hand or with a stick, and it serves an important function in Cuban music and the religion known as Santeria. It was brought to the island from the West African country of Nigeria by African slaves. In Cuba it is played with hands while in Nigeria sticks may also be used. Bata rhythms can be considered as part of the Afro Cuban drumming and rhythm repertoire.


The bougarabou is a drum similar in shape to the djembe except that the stem of the drum is a lot shorter. The drum usually has a thicker skin than the djembe. Bougarabou drums and rhythms can be heard in the West African countries of Senegal and Gambia. They may also be heard in other countries where the same ethnic groups reside.


The conga drum is today identified as a drum from Cuba and other Latin American countries. It is based on traditional African drums of the same shape and size, but is a more modern version of the traditional African drums. Conga drums have metal rings and lugs that tune the drum. Conga drums are shaped like a cylinder with the diameter being larger in the centre and tapering to narrower dimensions at either end. They are typically around 27 to 30 inch’s (70 to 80cms) in height and the top of the drum where the skin is mounted can vary from a small 91/2-inch (24 cm) drum known as the Quinto to the larger 12-to-13-inch (30 to 34 cm) drum called the Tumba.

Afro Cuban rhythms played on the Conga drum originated in different parts of Africa and were brought to Cuba with African slaves. These rhythms then underwent changes over the years to take on more distinctive Cuban characteristics, but their original African roots can still be identified.


The Kpanlogo drum from Ghana is shaped like the Cuban conga drum. It is in the shape of a hollowed out cylinder that is larger in the middle and tapers towards each end. A skin is stretched over the top end and fastened with pegs that sit in holes bored into the shell. The skin is connected to the pegs with a system of ropes. Drums like the Kpanlogo drum are found in many West African countries and can be considered as the drums that the Cuban conga drum was modelled on.

African Drumming in Melbourne

Want to Learn African Drumming? Ray will help you learn the basics of West African drumming and will guide you through a unique cultural experience. You’ll learn how to play traditional rhythms from Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Cuba. Ray’s classes are designed for beginners as well as experienced musicians who want to expand their knowledge of this ancient art form. Whether you’re looking for a new hobby or simply love music, we have everything you need right here! Come join us today!

Learning African drumming in Melbourne with Ray is a great way to improve your rhythm, meet like-minded people and play music together in a group. It’s fun, and classes are designed to be accessible for all levels of experience and age. Drums play an important role in African culture and helps build a sense of community. We can learn from traditional African societies and use African drumming to help develop a sense of community here in Melbourne too.