A brief history of the Djembe
The djembe originated in West Africa. While many myths and legends surround of its creation, we can definitely say, historically, that the djembe was being played in the Mali empire in the 12th century. The Mandinka tribe claims as theirs, and they are still made in Mali. Djembe is not the original name of this drum; it is a name that arrived after being mixed with the French language.
The “numu” or blacksmiths (a special class in West African society once considered to be imbued with unique energetic powers) are said to have crafted the first Djembes. And while they are a specialized caste In African culture, and some musical instruments are reserved for specific classes, the djembe is not one of them. Anyone who plays and respects the instrument is a djembefola, one who plays the djembe.
The djembe is used in many traditional events and celebrations in West African culture. Drum circles are common at births, weddings, and funerals. Ramadan and other religious holidays will find djembes playing. But even mundane tasks, like farming and other work can be made more enjoyable with a djembe.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that the djembe began to be known outside of Africa. Thanks to touring dance companies (Les Ballets Africains) in the mid-century performing African dances with traditional drummers, and then djembefolas teaching and recording in the 1980s, the growing interest in this instrument got the large percussion companies involved. Now here we are -- the djembe has become a staple of the World Percussion universe of instruments.