Recently I’ve gone twice to a 4 class series of a Dunun or Dun-Dun drumming class. For those of you who have never heard of this kind of drum, it’s pronounced dune- dune or sometimes june-june. The drums are cylinder-shaped, made out of wood with animal hide covered heads at both ends. They sit on wooden racks on their side and there is metal bell hooked to the top of them on one side. To play them you stand and hit one of the heads with a wooden drumstick with one hand, and you hit the metal bell with a metal dinger with the other hand.
Like the bata, they are played together in threes and each size plays a different rhythm that fits with the other and weaves into one song. The largest and most base drum is called the Duniba. The middle size the Sangba, and the smallest or highest drums the Kenkini. They are often played with djembes for dance, and they reverberate, create a wave like vibration with rhythms from Africa.
I’ve studied dunun off and on without being able to play outside of classes. For awhile I owned a set of them I tried using to drum for dancers. Playing dunun without others is not so easy. There is a style of playing dunun with the drums sitting on end on the floor. You sit down to play a rhythm with two or all three. It’s called Ballet style, and I confess I don’t exactly know if that is the correct spelling or not. It’s Ok, but to me the standing rack-type play with 3 people doing precise African rhythms is more preferable and creates a wave like vibration and energy like nothing else.
Most west african dance classes worth their salt have 2 or 3 dunun players and 3 or 4 djembe players, and the sound of that kind of combo is very solid, like a river a dancer can sail on.
My second dunun class was better than my first, though I’ve not been able to do the bell patterns with my left most of the time. I took a longer metal dinger and it got bent because of me hitting the bell without much skill. I’ve been focused on learning one thing at a time, so I’m not doing much bell pattern anyway as I can’t hear it and my ear is tuning to the main Sangba rhythn for “Kassa”.
What is good this time around for me is that I’m simply a better learner and have patience necessary for learning that I didn’t when I was younger. I used to just get lost, flounder and be frustrated as hell. Now I watch the woman in front of me who happens to be experienced and when I can, I stop watching and do the drum strokes, hearing my own sound. Dununs seem loud, just as djembes do, and they can be with people who are banging. But skillful players don’t play hard and loud, they play clear and relaxed. It takes a trained ear to be able to distinguish what is going on because the vibration is strong and at first it’s all an undecipherable flood of sound coming at you. I now let my ears direct me, rather than my mind and any preconceived ideas about how it’s supposed to be. Slowly, I begin to be able to hear other things and maintain the beat I’m playing. I get to go tonight to my 3rd class and what I’m going to enjoy is being able to play the Sangba “Kassa” rhythm with either hand and start enjoying it’s rhythm song dialogue with the base dunun and the higher kenkini rhythm. Last week I started to get the base rhythm. First I could hear it clearly and then I could play it. But I don’t have to worry because my ears are in charge rather than my mind.