How to Re-Skin a Drum

7 Jun

Think of Africa and you’ll probably think of drums! Drumming is a hugely significant part of the culture here, and almost every tribe uses drums in their cultural activities. Here at Balaba, we often have drumming round the fire if we have guests (and occasionally at other times too!), but that means the drums get worn out. A while ago, Lamin decided to ask someone to come in and re-skin our drums, so we spent a lovely morning watching the drum expert at work.

We already had a deer skin, and Lamin also arranged with Amadou to provide a goat skin as well. So Amadou arrived with everything he needed to repair the drums and set to work.

First, he removed the old skins, and then he cut the new skins to size. Each skin was stretched carefully over the top of the drum frame.

Then a hoop was hammered into place over the top.

Amadou attached ropes all round the hoop. There’s an intricate arrangement of rope and knots, to make sure the drum can be tuned safely.

Then the hard work began! Using a sturdy stick, Amadou twisted the ropes and pulled very hard to make the skin completely taut. He often used another stick as a hammer and bashed the knots down to pull the skin even tighter. All this took a lot of effort and quite a long time.

Once Amadou judged the skin had been pulled tight enough, the skin was cut to size. Here you can see my friend Naomi trying her hand!


The drums were left in the sun so the skin settled into its new place, and then the following day, Amadou went through the whole tightening process over again.



Then he used a razor blade to scrape the hair off the skins.



Finally the drums were ready. Here you can see Numo trying one of them out. You can also put metal plates with small metal rings onto the drum so you get a rattling sound – a bit like the jingles on a tambourine.

Naturally, it’s important to give moral and practical support(!). So Bakary made himself responsible for brewing ataya (green tea) – you can see he’s a bit of an expert!

The children sat around and watched, and occasionally wandered off for a swing in the hammock. (Please note the clever arrangement of attaching a smaller rope to a tree branch so you can swing yourself without needing any help!).

So now we have our drums all ready to be played next time we have guests. There’s no better way to spend an evening than listening to drumming around the fire.


2 Responses to “How to Re-Skin a Drum”

  1. Esseltee June 15, 2016 at 6:26 pm #

    Wow, that really does take some love and attention doesn’t it? How often do the drums need to be re-skinned? Xx

    • OkeCrafter June 17, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

      It certainly does take a while. I guess it depends on how often they’re played – once they start to look worn and lose their timbre, then they need re-skinning.

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