Africa / Music / Percussion

Drumming out the frustrations


A badly shot collection of instruments

In a past life I must have been African or Caribbean, even Brazilian or Argentine (well, I’m half this already). I’ve always been a drummer. I mean, I’m always drumming my fingers, hands and feet on any nearby surface. I have a collection of drums large and small (photo), mostly from the African continent and often quite touristy. It happens that my favourite is a djembe drum that comes from West Africa about which Wikipedia is expansive and very interesting. Apparently, the word comes from saying “Anke djé, anke bé” which translates to “everyone gather together in peace” and defines the drum’s purpose. In the Bambara language, “djé” is the verb for “gather” and “bé” translates as “peace”, according to that online ‘encyclopedia’.


My djembe gently waits…

I’m not sure my neighbours would agree about the peace thing, but I have always been for peace and quiet, despite this hobby of banging on things. At this very moment, I have Clearance Clearwater Revival rocking their way across my brainwaves, and, when I’m not actually typing, I am drumming on my desk, which has a good sound and won’t bother the vicinity. The cat about which I blog on occasions (Conversations with Piss-Piss), doesn’t like my drumming and will absent himself. I understand: cats don’t get rhythm. Useless cats.

Drums. The first real bongos I ever had were a gift from my lovely Elena, who probably regretted it.I left those behind when we drifted apart — and promptly bought some new ones as soon as I could. That started me off. Elena had also given me a vinyl LP of Paco de Lucía‘s Entre Dos Aguas, which features a bongo playing in pure flamenco, a big novelty at the time (Paco is another story). Coming to flamenco country made it easy to find the LP again.

A cajón, which contains springs inside and has a wonderful sound

A cajón, which contains springs inside and has a wonderful sound. Marcelo, give mine back!

As the result of this, I eventually acquired a caja or cajón, a Peruvian sound box also introduced into flamenco by Paco de Lucía.  My son Marcelo has it, he says, at his mother’s house, where I saw it a couple of months ago, being used as a side table. In fact, this is a delicate instrument upon which you sit. It offers a great variety of percussive sounds. (I’m about to climb up yet another branch. Please stop me.)



Very similar to my own mbira.

Did I mention my mbira, or lamellophone thumb piano? This is a wonderful instrument, though not strictly percussive. You don’t hit it, you play it with your thumbs and/or fingers. It makes a wonderful sound, as you can hear/see on this incredible YouTube movie. Mine is a much simpler instrument, but the fingers still hurt from lack of practice. I bought it from a street performer on Grafton Street, Dublin. I also acquired a clay drum from him, but it cracked very easily.

There are more, lots of them. Large, small, whatever. I enjoy them fully, though I don’t think I’m any good at them.

This, of course, is why I mention all this on GOF’s. If you’re retired, take up an instrument; it is by far the most relaxing thing I do. It gets frustration out of the system, too.

(C) Alberto Bullrich 2015

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