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Different Types of African Drums & Their Uses

Updated February 21, 2017

Drums and other percussion instruments of African origin have made their way into a variety of non-African styles of popular music. Many of these instruments are ceremonial or religious in origin. Traditional African music is almost always associated with religion, and drums played an important role in ceremonies and rituals. Though the types of drums vary considerably from region to region, there are also many similarities between drums of different tribes.

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The djembe is one of the most widely recognised instruments in African music and has been used by contemporary artists like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. The djembe is traditionally constructed using wood formed in an hourglass figure which is then covered with animal skin tied to the top of the larger hole or drum head. The djembe is widely used in traditional African music by the people of Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Djembe is an integral part of traditional African ceremonies like weddings, funerals, and sacred rites. The drum is known for its great healing power as well.


The Ashiko is similar to the djembe, but it has a conical shape rather than an hourglass figure. The hand drum is popular in numerous African countries, Cuba, Brazil, and Haiti. In West African languages, Ashiko means freedom, and the drum often accompanies religious ceremonies, rites of passage, healing, storytelling and warrior initiations. Goat leather is commonly used to cover the drum head, while a variety of different hard woods are used to form the body.


This type of "talking drum" is widely used in West African music found in Ghana, Senegal, and Mali. Talking drums are distinguished from other drums by their ability to create a wide range of pitches that mimic the sound of the human voice and the languages of the regions where it is played. Like many African drums, Adondos are played during initiation rites, funerals, and birth celebrations in traditional African societies. The adondo is played with a small wooden stick or mallet. The musician strikes the drum head and squeezes a set of attached strings in order to alter the pitch.

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About the Author

Charlie Higgins

Charlie Higgins is journalist, editor and translator based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has written for a variety of lifestyle and niche market websites, including International Food Trader, The Olive Oil Times, microDINERO, Sounds and Colours, Connecting Worlds and The Buenos Aires Reader.

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