Bongo Bananas

A Brief History of Percussion

It is true to say that rhythm is the most basic instinct we have. Even before we are born we have been subjected to the rhythmic beating of our mother´s heart and when we are born our own heart keeps a steady rhythm whether we notice it or not.

Most nationalities have drums or some form of drum which has in the past been used, and in some instances still is used, for ceremonial occasions and celebrations.

Percussion instruments were probably among the earliest instruments. There is evidence that the first membrane drums consisted of naturally hollow tree trunks covered at one or both ends with the skins of water animals, fish, or reptiles. Later, skins of hunted game and cattle were used. Drum bodies could be of wood, metal, earthenware, or bone.
Numerous representations of drums in a variety of shapes and sizes appear in the art of Egypt, Southern Africa, Assyria, India, Sumaria, China, and Persia. The art of the Greeks and Romans show membrane drums.

The Bongo

Afro/Cuban origin.

The bongo consists of a pair of small, single headed hand drums that are a common element in Latin percussion.
Consists of two drums, of different size. The small drum (Macho-the "male" drum) is placed to the left and the large drum (Hembra-the "female" drum) is placed to the right.
Typically pitched high, they are often used as a solo instrument.

The history of bongo drumming can be traced to the Cuban music styles known as Changüi and Son. These styles first developed in eastern Cuba in the late 1800's around the time that slavery was abolished. Initially, the bongo had heads which were tacked and tuned with a heat source. By the 1940's metal tuning lugs were developed to facilitate easier tuning.

Played with the bare hands (if you are not Safri Duo!) and great virtuosity is possible on the bongos.
The basic rhythm for the bongos is called Martillo (The Hammer).

The bongo is often used to give inspiration/variation to the band and dancers, and add tasteful fills.
It is a popular instrument in Latin-American orchestras and other rhythmic bands.

The Conga

Afro/Cuban origin.

A tall narrow single-headed drum played with the hands.

Usually played in sets of two or three of different sizes: Tumba, Conga and Quinto.
Most likely to be played in pairs (ex: Conga/Tumba). Had its breakthrough in Europe and in America through Latin-American music.

The congas supplies the bass for the rhythm group.
A rhythm played on the congas is called "Tumbao", and different styles are possible on the congas: Moderno, Pilón, Mozambique, Guajira, Son Montuno, Cha-Cha-Cha, Mambo, Guaracha.

Kettle Drum

Historically, kettle drums have been used throughout many Islamic and Middle Eastern nations; carved images of these instruments from Mesopotamia date back to at least 4000 B.C., while instructions for building them have been found on ancient Babylonian tablets. They have also played a significant role in European music since the 13th century.
First brought to the west by soldiers during the Crusades, kettle drums were traditionally associated with military bands and campaigns.
These and other instruments were used to mark time, to signal attack and strike fear in one's opponents.

In western orchestras, sets of kettle drums (or timpani) are usually made from copper; they have plastic or calfskin drum heads. Pairs of two or more kettledrums have become an essential part of the percussion section in band and symphony music.

In Africa, similar instruments are built out of carved wood or hollowed tree trunks and drum heads made from carefully prepared animal hide. Amidst this tremendous variety, all kettle drums have several features in common: their basic, bowl-like shape and the capacity to have their drum heads tuned and adjusted to a relatively specific pitch.


Origin: Cuba

Consists of two drums attached to each other. One has a high sound and the other low, and they are played with two wooden sticks a little thinner than regular drum sticks. Used a lot in salsa and world pop music today.


Origin: Africa, Native America and Asia

A name popularly applied to high-pitched hand drums, usually barrel-shaped and having either one or two drumheads of skin. They are tunable to specific pitches. Supposedly of Native American or Asian origin, they are sometimes used in modern dance orchestras for special effects.


Origin: West Africa

Believed to have come from the Malinke people in the Northeast of Guinea.

It's on the verge of achieving world status as a percussion instrument, rivaled in popularity perhaps only by the conga and steel pan. It first made an impact outside West Africa in the 1950s due to the world tours of Les Ballets Africains led by the Guinean Fodeba Keita.

A large goblet shaped drum, traditionally carved out of one log, the djembe's sharp bright sound and dynamic range of colours made it an ideal drum for healers, storytellers, accompanying dance, and for communicating between villages.

Like an ashiko, yields a resonant bass tone when struck in the middle, and a high ringing tone when struck on the rim.

The djembe has become the most popular African drum to be played outside of Africa, yet it is a very demanding instrument and there are few musicians who can play it well.

Log Drum

Origin: Africa, Indonesia and Latin America

Since primeval times, the log drum has been used in rituals or as a means of communication. It was first used in Europe in folk and experimental percussion-orientated music. Today the log drum is also found in fields such as early education, musical instrument instruction, music at home and music therapy. This creative instrument offers unlimited possibilities ranging from methodical playing to pure uninhibited playing pleasure.

Whether equipped with 2, 4, 6, 8 or 10 tongues, the log drum is an instrument, which can be easily played without restrictions and requires no prior knowledge of music. Nothing grates, nothing sounds off key because the tuning allows for every kind of playing. In next to no time, it is possible to produce fascinating rhythmical and melodious music.

The Safri Tubes

Origin: Denmark

In 1995 Safri Duo invented the now so famous Safri Tubes. The tubes are plastic carpet roles, cut into different lengths, to make a specific sound when struck in one end, by mouse pads.

(More info about the Safri Tubes can be found in the Career Bio)

Tubes can also be seen in other variations. They are for instants used by Blue Man Group in a smaller version.

The Marimba

Known as a folk music instrument in Africa, Asia, Central,-and South America, several Eastern European countries a.o.

A keyboard-like percussion instrument known in Europe since the 16th century.

Smaller versions of the instrument are known in Europe since the 13th Century.
The marimba is part of a line of Vibraphones and it has a deeper tone than for instants the Xylophone. It is equipped with tubular resonators and is often played by two or more players, and is struck with soft mallets.
The Marimba is the most significant instrument of a Symphonic Orchestra.


A small woven grass shaker.

Made of straw, these usually keep time with their distinctive sound. Some are filled with little pieces of acrylic or just rice or beriba seeds to create the sound. Caxixis come in various sizes.


Origin: Asia

A percussion instrument consisting of a hollow metal vessel used for making a more or less loud noise.
Bells are usually cup-like in shape, and are constructed so as to give one fundamental note when struck.

Bells have been known in all metal-using cultures and civilizations. Many legends and traditions are associated with bells, which have been used for signaling, in dancing, and as protective charms.

The Crasher

The Crasher delivers a bright, tight metallic sound that’s unavailable in any other percussion accessory. Perfect for all types of music and great as a recording sound effect. 


An instrument used basically for effects. With metal sticks of different sizes, the carrilhão emits a most unusual rising and falling sound.

The Didgeridoo

Origin: Australia.

A wind instrument traditionally made of wood from the Eucalyptus, the didgeridoo is a long wooden flute, perhaps the oldest musical instrument on earth.
It was used as an accompaniment to chants and songs.
The Aborigine would listen to the sounds of wind, thunder, trees creaking, and water running. The essences of all these sounds were played with as much accuracy as possible within the droning sound of the didgeridoo.

Is has an average length of 1.3 metres, is slightly curved at the lower end, and produces a low-pitch, resonant sound with complex rhythmic patterns.

The didgeridoo acts as an amplifier. It will naturally amplify the vibration sound and create what we know as the didgeridoo drone.

The didgeridoo is a difficult instrument to play, as you have to master Circular Breathing in order to play it correctly. (Circular Breathing = Inhale through the nose, while exhaling through the didgeridoo):

The first stage of circular breathing is to trap air in the cheeks. Once the air is trapped, release it gradually. Regulate the amount of air that is being released through the lips.

Whilst doing that, breathe through the nose to put air back into the lungs and then push the air from the lungs back into the cheeks to continue playing didgeridoo.

If the earth had a voice it would be the sound of the Didgeridoo

It is coming from the heart
It is coming from the land
It is a soul instrument
You feel it

it is the sound of Mother Earth

What would the world do without percussionists?

Info taken from:

Lars-Bo Kujahn: "Oriental Percussion"

Birger Sulsbrück: "Latin-American Percussion"

Written by The Safri Zone

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