on West African 

Bass Drums


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The dunun (DOO-noon) family of West African bass drums (also dun dun, djun djun, dundun) creates the rhythmic and melodic foundation for many Malinke rhythms. The dunun is a membranophone percussion instrument consisting of a hollow tubular wood body, cow skin head on both ends, rope tensioning system, is struck with a stick, and often is accompanied by a bell (kenken). Each of the three dunun has a specific rhythm and role to play in the ensemble, and has a specific name.

The largest of the three is dundumba (DOON-doom-bah, also doudounba, dununba), which has the deepest voice and typically plays phrases that accentuate the rhythm's foundation and interact melodically with the sangban. The sangban (SONG-bahn, also sangba, sanba) is the middle-size drum, is tuned to mid-frequency that matches the tone of the djembe, and often plays a lead role in creating the core identity of the rhythm, with specific calls and variations that communicate to the dancers. The smallest of the family is kenkeni (KEN-ken-ee, also sangbani), which has the highest voice best suited to keep the pulse, or downbeat, of the rhythm. Each distinct part played by dundumba, sangan, or kenkeni typically has a bell pattern related to the drum pattern.