Skin Talk: How To Rehead A Djembe

Skin Talk: How To Rehead A Djembe


In the djembe’s folklore, the drum is believed to contain three spirits: the spirit of the tree from which the shell was made, the spirit of the animal from which the drumhead was made, and the spirit of the instrument maker.

If it looks like it might be complicated to string and rehead a djembe, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. There is a lot to consider when assembling one of these sacred African drums, which first made an impact outside West Africa in the 1950s, with the world tours of Les Ballets Africains led by Fodeba Keita of Guinea.


To start from scratch, here are the supplies that you need:

Drum shell — Remember the rule of thumb: the top edge of your drum should look like the tip of your thumb from the side, where the nail part of your thumb is the inside of the shell (i.e., flat). The outer edge should be rounded over, not flat on top. The rounding allows the head to tune more smoothly and evenly.
Rings and fabric — Flesh hoop, loop ring, lower ring, fabric to cover (for decoration, if desired)
Skin and rope - The amount of rope that you need will depend on the distance between the lower ring and the top ring of your drum, the number of verticals you have (or plan to have), and the diameter of the rings you are using.

Here’s how to prepare your rings, if you need to:

Covered ring - Cover the lower ring and the loop ring with fabric of your choice. This is just for decorative purposes, and can also serve to cover any discoloration or sharp edges on your rings. Use fabric in 100 percent cotton or 50 percent cotton/50 percent polyester for best results. Using strips about 1.5" wide, glue one end to the hoop using craft glue. Wrap strips around the hoop in an overlapping fashion. When you get back to the starting point, use more glue and secure the other end. Once you have covered the two rings, you need to create the loops on the ring. The diameter of the ring determines the number of loops to create. Each loop should be about two finger widths wide once tied. The bottom ring also has to accommodate the same number of loops, but will be smaller — about one-finger-width wide when finished.

Lacing The Verticals

Lace the bottom ring to the top (loop ring).

Take a candle and rub the entire rim with it, any place the head will touch, so the skin does not stick to the rim.

Start to lace verticals — Leave the verticals long enough so that the top ring is about .75" above the rim. This will allow you to slip the flesh ring through the top ring without too much difficulty.

Page 1 of 3
Get the How To Tune Drums Minibook when you subscribe to our newsletter

More Hand Drum

The Magazine


Get the How To Tune Drums Minibook when you subscribe to our newsletter