Glossary of African Drumming and Dance


Sierra Leone street music.

Cameroonian street music.

Yoruba vocal and percussion music from Nigeria.

A drum shaped like a cone and meant to be played with your hands. The ashiko drum is played throughout sub-Sarahan Africa and eastern Cuba. In Cuba it is known as the Boku and is played during carnivals and street parades. Some consider the ashiko to be male and the djembe female.

Popular music sung in Yoruba language in Nigeria.

Yoruba word roughly translatable as "life force," now applied as a label for an Afro- Bahian pop style.

West African xylophone made of wood slats and calabash resonators. Variations appear throughout Africa such as the marimba in Mozambique.

Family of three double-headed Nigerian drums played across the lap. Used in the Yoruba religious music of Cuba.

A drumming session in samba.

Northern African hand drum constructed from a circular wooden frame with a taut skin stretched over it.

Musical style from western Kenya originally from the Luo people.

Dance rhythm from Martinique.

Popular Cameroonian folk-based rhythm from the Yaounde area.

Zairian dance rhythm.

Pair of polished, hardwood sticks struck together to produce a high-pitched sound;also refers to the two-bar rhythmic pattern underlying Afro-Cuban music. Incorporated in early Congolese music.

Single-headed barrel-shaped drum of West African descent.

Congo music
Widely used term in Africa for dance music from Zaire and Congo. Also called "rumba" or sometimes "soukous."

Athletic dance rhythm from Wassoulou region of Mali.

West African hand drum often with metal sheets attached for amplification. A djembe (also jembe, jenbe, yembe, sanbanyi in Susu; pronounced "ZHEM-bay") is a goat skin covered drum shaped like a large goblet and meant to be played with bare hands. As a result of this shape and the goat skin head, there is a large difference in the tones produced. Striking the skin near the center produces a bass note; striking the skin near the rim can produce either a tone or slap note, depending on the technique used. The slap has a higher pitch than the tone. Some consider the djembe female and the Ashikos to be male. The djembe is said to contain 3 spirits. The spirit of the tree, the spirit of the animal of which the drum head is made and the spirit of the instrument maker. The djembe is also known as the magical drum.

(also written as dundun, doundoun, djun-djun) usually played in sets of three graduated bass drums originally made of a wood shell with cow or goat skin heads. Today people also build them of metal, fiberglass and even PCV. The dunun originated in the Mali empire along with the djembe.


This is a drum from Calabar in Nigeria from the Efik speaking tribe. This drum is used all year long to support the dance movement and rythms of Monikim and Ekombi. Specifically, these drums play the cue just like djembe and and the rest from this family. like the Djembe and Djun Djun family of drums, the Ekomo drum also has a family. They are of Ekomo which produces the tone and Ibit which produces the bass, Uboro Ekomo is the female of the Ayara Ekomo.

Yoruba voice and percussion popular in Nigeria.

Gankogui / Agogo Bell
The Gankogui (gon-KOE-gui), also known as agogo bell, double bell, or hi-low bell, is used in a variety of West African and Brazilian drumming. A two-pitch pattern is produced by striking the bells with a stick. It's great for keeping time for the drummer and dancers. The Gankogui adds a great deal of drive to the drumming. Gankogui are hand-forged of iron. The high bell is roughly a tonal third above the lower bell.

Percussion and street rhythm from the Antilles that has influenced zouk.

Dance music from Ghana and eastern Nigeria.

Court or wandering bard in Manding society responsible for keeping oral histories and family lineages. Plays instruments such as kora and balafon.

Vocal and percussion music from Zimbabwe rural villages.

Popular Yoruba style from Nigeria, featuring talking drums, guitars, keyboards, and sometimes pedal steel.

A peg tuned drum from Volta and Western regions of Ghana.

Lamellophone, or "thumb piano," from Congo.

Cameroonian dance rhythm from Douala area.

Percussion music from Senegal.

Thumb piano of the Shona people in Zimbabwe. Played by plucking metal strips on a wooden slab, often clamped inside a gourd resonator. Used recreationally and to communicate with ancestors.

Folkloric vocal and drum style.

Milo jazz
Sierre Leone street music.

Dance and rhythm from southeastern Congo.

Refers to a combination of music-song-dance in Tanzania and Kenya. Also refers to a specific type of drum, or drums in general.

Traditional girls' dance in the Ivory Coast popularized by Gnaore Djimi whose musichas a driven triplet feel and boisterous percussion breaks.

Purportedly invented by Chilean native Indians in order to attempt to bring rain to the dry desert regions of Chile. The rainstick makes a sound similar to the sound of falling rain. Rainsticks can be make of many things including bamboo and PCV piping. However, the traditional rainstick is made of ocotillo cactus.

Senegalese drum played with one stick and one hand, featured in many Senegalese pop bands.

Shekeres are found throughout the continent of Africa and called different things, such as the lilolo, axatse, and chequere. It is predominantly called in Nigeria. The shekere is made from various sized gourds that grow on the ground. The shape of the gourd determines the sound of the instrument. A shekere is made by drying the gourd for several months then removing the pulp and seeds. After it is scrubbed, a netting of bead work is added to the outside to produce a "shaker" sound. A great instrument to accompany Djembe, Ashiko and Bougarabou drumming.

Term used in West Africa for showing appreciation of a musician by placing money on them while performing, also called dashing.

Talking Drum
The talking drum (aka dondo, adondo, atumpan, or gan gan) is a drum where the pitch can be varied, like a timpani. Like many drums, the talking drums have been used for communicating. When the drum is squeezed under the arm and played, one can produce the intonations of human speech. The drum originated in West Africa. These drums add a beautiful dynamic to the drum circle!

Wolof name for talking drum, capable of imitating spoken language.

Two-headed goat skin drum, held across the player's lap, that provides characteristic heart-throb merengue beat. One head is played with a stick and the other is played with the hand.

Traditional Ivorian rhythm.