A Brief History of the Jembe and its Entry into the United States

The particulars surrounding the birth of the jembe are still contested by ethnomusicologists with an interest in the instrument and its cultural associations. Professor Eric Charry in his text, ‘Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa”, suggest that the history of the instrument may be traced by tracing the history of a specific class of artisans, the blacksmiths (Numus). The association between the jembe and the Numus is based on the fact that the blacksmiths (Numus) are the ones entrusted with working intimately with the elements and materials needed to make the jembe.See ‘Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa” p.215 for table of woods used to make Jembes. The jembe is heavily incorporated in West African Musical traditions. The major jembe playing areas include: Guinea, Segou, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Conakry and Bamako.The jembe drums are utilized within specific contexts and this is evident in the specifications as to when certain pieces in the repertories may be played. Professor Eric Charry provides a detailed introduction to the jembe in his article, “A Guide to the Jembe”. The article features a brief history, jembe bibliography, discography, videography and map of the core jembe playing areas. Although there are no hereditary restrictions on the persons who may play the Jembe, there are particular family names which are known to have an established lineage of jembe players. Many of whom, have taken residence in the United States. Most notably, Ladji Camara, Abdoul Doumbia, Diali Djimo Koyate and his family.Ladji Camara: (Brief BiographicalInformation) AbdoulDoumbia (Boulder, CO):The following link will direct you to Abdoul’s main webpage, where detailed information of the location and prices of classes and other jembe events led by him may be found. The site also features a store where you may purchase his music as well as the music of other African artistes that he enjoys. Diali Djimi Kouyate(Deceased) but family and organization dedicated to the continuation of African Culture in the United States are based in Washington D.C. The foundation’s name is Memory of African Culture. The foundation’s website includes the biographies of the Kouyate family members as well as information on forums, seminars, concerts and classes pertaining to African music including, but not limited to, the jembe. The website also provides detailed contact information.

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