Bali Djembe drums vs West African djembe drums
The prices of professional djembe drums are going through the roof on line (you can pay well over $650!). That said, under certain circumstances, one of the best buys going right now is a Bali djembe drum. They are just about always light weight, have nice skins and a great drum can cost you about $100 US or even less!
Bali is still a wonderful place to visit, highly recommended and if you are a drummer or dancer and love the beach it can be quite idealic there as there can be drumming every night! There are many drum groups there and some awesome players as well. People told me for years about how great some of the players were there but I had to see it to believe it!
While traveling in Asia about 2 years ago I bought two djembe drums from a shop outside of Kuta Beach, Bali for under $80 each. For a point of comparison I was able to buy djembes in Guinea and Mali when I was there 5 years ago for around $50-75 dollars, but getting them back was costly as was reheading them when the skins broke and I also put new rope on them, too.
When I was in Bali at the djembe shop (where I bought my drums )I went next door to the surf shop where they make surfboard cases and had those guys copy my djembe case to the “t”. Don’t worry, the bag was actualy my original design now being sold by Drumskulls. I turned them on to the manufacturer.
They even sewed my name into the top of the bag with large scrolled letters. Under $35 US! My friend Boaz had beautiful chrome sesse sesse, (aka casanka sank) made for him as well. There are only a couple of woods offered but Boaz was able to get them to carve a drum for him out of a more exotic wood.
The only problem with these drums, which is the same problem they have had there since they started making djembes there, is that the “choke” (the space where your fist can go through the tunnel of the drum inside of it) is still too small for some peoples tastes. Also, they usually do not loop the skin back over the rim for that finished look and extra protection the skin gives your hands.
My drums have held up very well. I have had no cracking on my drums or any of the many drums Boaz brought back. The skin on one of my solo oriented djembe drums out lasted many of my other African drums, too!
Now all that said, I would still only recommend buying a Bali drum if you are going there, or if you can see or play the drum first. Please do not buy one with out first checking it out!
The quality varies tremendously, and quite frankly most of the Bali djembes I have seen in person or on line in the USA (outside of my familiar and large curdle of drum friends) are not up to par.
So what does this mean? Buyer beware. There are some truly awful drums coming out of Bali in mass as well as some very nice ones!
They make so many drums on Bali now it is mind boggling. It seems like there is a drum shop on every corner! Who is buying all these drums? One day Boaz and I made a point to go to every drum shop we could find in the Kuta Beach area and play as many drums with as many drummers as we could. It took us all day! But we sure had fun and made a lot of nice friends as well.
So how do they compare with a nice Guinea djembe or Mali drums? Too me, I still prefer a top notch Guinea or Mali drum. Why? The sound to my ears fuller and more tonal. But don’t count out the Bali drum yet. They can also produce a full rich tone and be a nice solo drum as well. A point to note is this. Bali drums are turned on a lathe, so they are “perfect” or at least very symmetrical and also, smooth inside. This produces a certain tonal quality.
African drums from Guinea, Mali and the Ivory Coast (maybe Senegal too) are all hand carved and therefore not as symmetrical. Some people believe that this factor, not being perfecty round, is actualy a positive and this what gives each djembe drum it unique voice. Also, many of the drums are not as smooth inside as the Bali drums.
Meanwhile, I also like the shells from Ivory coast. I am not partial to the Senegalese drumsas they seem to be too slap happy and bass oriented and don’t have the certain tone I like to hear. This is all a matter of personal taste because they all make some fine drums.
So here is the bottom line. If you have the cash, buy an African drum. If you do not, and you have contacts through Bali for a nice drum, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars. Again, if you do not see and play the drum first you could get burned badly with a poor sounding Bali drum, though!
A few nights ago I heard a Bali djembe drum Ray Raush brought over to Bangkok, Thailand being played by Eddie Tamba of Liberia at the drum jam on Khao San Road in Bangkok. I have to say it sounded just as good or even better then the African drums we were playing. That said, Eddie can make any drum sound sweet, and his technique is way better then those of us playing the African drums, too.
So there you have it. If you are knowledgeable and play it smart you can have a great drum for very little money. However if you are not careful, it will not be worth it!
If you do go through Bali or have a trusted drumming friend going through there you should definitely check out the shops outside of Kuta beach for a really nice, inexpensive drum and case. And you like carvings, you can order a drum with carvings to your specifications (such as a dragon or something) as well.