Meet the Dundun Family

Did you know that there are 3 different bass drums in the Guinean percussive orchestra? Each has its own distinct name, size, shape, and drum part that aligns beautifully with the other Dundun drum parts as well as the djembes. When WACAI teaching artists  talk about the set of Dunduns to kids they like to refer to them as the Dundun family. The largest drum is the "Papa" drum which has the deepest voice and is called the Dundunba. The Sangban is the medium sized or "Mama" drum with a slightly higher pitch while the Kenkeni or Kinkedi is the "Baby" drum with a head approximately 8-12 inches in diameter, tightly stretched over the opening to give a fairly high pitch sound.

Dunduns are typically carved by hand out of West African hard wood like Lenge, Hare, or Mango tree wood into hallow cylinders that have cow skin stretched across both openings connected with an elaborately woven pattern of rope. Once the Dunduns are assembled and the cow skin has dried after soaking in water until it is supple, tension is put on the cow skin by pulling slack out of the rope to tune the drums to their specific tone.

The Dundun set traditionally comes from the Mandingo AKA Malinke people of Guinea who play the 3 drums separately on their sides, horizontally. One hand strikes the skin with a stick while the other hand plays a different bell part by hitting a forged metal tube with a slender iron rod. This style of playing initially requires a lot of hand/eye coordination, but is extremely satisfying once parts are mastered and the internal dialog of the Dundun set begins to emerge!

The Dundun set can also be played with all 3 drums bound together vertically using 2 sticks to hit the drum heads. This style of playing the Dunduns is known as "ballet" style due to the adaptation that performance groups or "African ballets" in the capital city of Conakry more frequently use in their drum and dance productions. Ballet style Dundun playing incorporates all the musical dialogs of the traditional style except that the bell parts are omitted and overlapping the beats are absorbed and incorporated into the whole overall sound.

Studying the traditional Dundun and bell parts for Guinean rhythms is a challenge and a joy! Engaging in this experience enhances active listening because it forces the players to play their parts in such a way that they align with the other Dundun parts in the proper manner. If parts don't aligned "just so" the music doesn't sound right, instead it sounds jumbled or isn't recognizable as a particular rhythm. It also requires drummers to not only know their part well enough to play it over and over again, but to understand how it layers with all the other parts. When first embarking on this activity all the sounds trying to come together may sound like a cacophony, but once the rhythm starts to gel there is this amazing feeling of inter-connectedness between players and feeling of awe for the non-verbal communication that this poly-rhythmic drum form brings!

If you are in the Southern Oregon area this Sunday, January 28th please consider joining us for some awesome African Drum and Dance classes, featuring our new offering of a Dundun Drum class from 1-2:30 pm. No experience is necessary and everyone is welcome! Drums are provided so please feel free to just show up. All classes will be held at the Williams Grange with a lunch break between 12:30-1 pm. If you have any questions please feel free to email

11:00 am-12:30 pm Drum Class 
12:30-1 pm Lunch Break
1-2:30 pm Dundun Drum Class
2:30-4 pm Dance Class 

Williams Grange
20100 Williams Hwy

Drop-ins welcome @ $15 per class
Take all 3 classes for $40 (save $5)