West African Drumming in the Djembe Tradition

In African culture, the drum has been a significant form of communication to convey important information, whether that be signals of danger or of celebration. The Djembe, in particular, is a type of goblet drum played by hand that originates from the Bambara peoples in Mali. The name comes from the saying “Anke djé, anke bé”, which translates to “Everyone gather together in peace”, defining the drum’s purpose. This project will focus on various festival djembe and other instruments that complement the djembe, such as the talking drum, rain-sticks, shakers, and bells. According to Dworsky and Sansby (2000), “For centuries, the djembe has been the driving force in the traditional music of West Africa. Now this light, powerful instrument – with its deep bass tones and explosive claps – is fast becoming the hottest drum in the world.”

Master Artist: James Wilburn, Jr. (Spokane)

During his travels to Ghana and Senegal, James had the opportunity to learn drumming from local drum masters across several local communities. Upon his return to the States, he would continue to hone his skills until the next time he traveled back to Senegal to create a record with a Senegalese musician. James has since taught African drumming at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, TN, where he also formed an African Drum Ensemble. Since relocating to Spokane, WA, he continues to celebrate his passion for African drumming by teaching courses at various public schools.

Source: Wilburn & Associates, LLC.

“Teaching the African drumming tradition will…continue to promote African culture and African tradition that is underrepresented and underutilized in our community.”

Apprentice: Roberta Wilburn (Spokane)

African culture has always been an interest of Roberta’s, especially after watching her husband, James (above), perform African drumming for years. Together, they have been very involved in community cultural events to spur cultural awareness and interest. With the knowledge she gains, Roberta would like to open the door for more women interested in African drumming to get into the field. She also hopes to incorporate African drumming into creative therapies, as a teacher of counseling education at Whitworth University, by facilitating drum circles as a culturally sensitive therapeutic process with African Americans struggling with stress or anxiety.

Source: Wilburn & Associates, LLC.

“[This apprenticeship] would get more women interested in African drumming. They have only had male role models and I would like to change this.”

Featured image: Roberta and James Wilburn practice the djembe as part of their Heritage Arts apprenticeship. Inlander. 19 September 2019.

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