Saturday, October 30, 2010

And speaking of dun duns

I have been playing ballet style for a couple of months now and am absolutely grooving on it. I LOVE the dun duns!

So far I know 5 songs:

Sandia Sumali

I am playing a set that includes a dununba and a kenkeni and am having a blast with them.

It's Dun Dun

Ok, I am not sure how this happened. I have heard various accounts. But once and for all I want to clarify that the name of the big Malian (and Guinean) bass drums is dun dun. It is pronounced 'doon doon'. It is not djun djun. It is not pronounced june june.

The story I have heard about the origin of this calamity of mispronunciation is that it started with Babatunde Olatunji, who is Nigerian. Somehow he started spelling dun dun with the 'j' because that is how the French spell djembe. (Which IS a 'j' sound, of course.) His mistake has infiltrated drumming circles around the world and has resulted in generations of Americans mispronouncing the name of the drum. The irony is that Babatunde isn't from a country that even has these bass drums.

Another story I heard was that a West African drummer (could it have been Mamady?) kept calling the bass drums djun djuns and when he was asked about it by someone who knew that the drums are called dun duns in West Africa, he laughed and said that he thought that was the American pronunciation of the drum and didn't want to confuse his students.

So, ask a Malian, Guinean, Burkinabe, or Ivorian how to say the name of the drum and they will tell you:

Dun dun.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Finally, after all this time, I asked Sidy to let me work on the dun duns. He has given me his ballet style set to work with and practice on. It is a huge old dununba and a beautifully carved kenkeni that get lashed together and played vertically.

Playing dun duns is a very different experience. The muscles you use are different because you are holding sticks. The role of the duns duns in the ensemble is to keep time and create a bassline melody that holds the rest of the drums together. It isn't easy for me because after 4 1/2 years of trying to follow the dun duns, I now have to stop listening to the other drums and just keep a steady rhythm myself. It is especially a challenge in class when the djembes are wandering all over the place, LOL.

I love these drums, though. I have been practicing every single day. I set the drums up in the corner of my dining room and every time I walk by, I sit down to play for awhile. My house vibrates, LOL.