written by Julien Tauban
At the end of the 90s, my father was involved in a project building a water well in a remote village in Burkina Faso. Since he was often travelling there, I asked him to buy a djembe for me. The first one he brought back was a typical ‘tourist djembe’ from the capital city Ouagadougou. Although it looked beautiful, it was not an instrument that was really meant to be played, it was a bit fragile and truly lacking in sound.
As he was getting ready for his next trip there, I asked him to try to buy a djembe directly from the hands of a performing musician in the village where he was staying. This proved to be a rather difficult mission, as all djembes used in ceremonies and parties there were considered magical, each having inherited the spirit of the lingué tree from which they were built. After much discussions, and with the help of a very generous offer, my dad was able to acquire one of these special djembes.
‘Attention Julien, ce Djembe, il est magique!’ (Watch out Julien, this djembe is magical)
These were the first words my father told me when he handed me the drum. He went on to tell the whole story, and mentioned all recommendations he had gotten from the musician and the forgeron (traditional blacksmith) who had built the drum. These recommendations were not about playing techniques or rhythms, they were about showing the appropriate respect to the instrument and its spirit. Among other, it included a few holy rules such as to never sit astride the djembe, or never play the djembe before washing one’s hands after having sex :)
Over the years, I’m not 100% sure I followed all these rules, but I’ve always had a special relationship with this djembe and I’ve always tried to take great care of it.
It has a splendid, singing, powerful voice, and it has been following me in my travels, going to countless jam sessions, on stages and in many studios.
I’ve also sampled the djembe many times, and included a first version of it with a couple of articulations in the library World Sounds Deluxe Set. Quite nice, but I still wanted to create a Kontakt library dedicated to the djembe, with more playing techniques and the best possible sound. Most importantly, it made sense to pay tribute to the spirit of the instrument and create something special, possibly with a bit of ‘magic’ involved.
And after a total of 8 beta versions, and a time span of 3 years between the sample recordings and the release of the product, I’m quite happy about the way the virtual instrument turned out.
The sound is beautiful and very flexible: I just love to record percussion with an XY pair of Schoeps, it gives a sound that I would describe as ‘mono 3D’: it’s very much like a mono recording, with a strong image in the center, but there is a touch of extra dimension to it, a 3D sense of space. The Schoeps microphones also add something special to the mid frequencies, it’s just the right balance between detail, warmth and musicality. The djembe was recorded fairly close, in a studio control room, and there is a bit of proximity involved which gives a nice bass boost to the sound. It fits the djembe well, because the instrument itself is loud and powerful :)
There are lots of articulations included (even drum stick on side of the drum shell) but it should be very easy for anyone to play: the main sounds are to be found on the black keys, and this way it’s possible to play the instrument a bit like a real djembe, with more arm movement, it works and sounds good.
There are built-in arpeggios and rolls functions as well, they offer a quick and simple way to create realistic rhythms. Using the arpeggio in Kontakt is a good way to find a good compromise between control and randomness: You can choose the notes that will be played and tweak the basic pattern, but the results will always be a little unexpected, and this is priceless for creativity and inspiration.
But for me the most special thing about this library are the automatic instruments. They really have a life of their own :)
The techniques used are really complex, but on the surface it feels and sounds like a musician grooving on a djembe, with fluid variations in dynamics and notes played, random accents and short rolls.
I’ve had a few friends and colleagues over at the studio the last month, and each of them had to sit down and try the ‘auto djembes’. Reactions were very positive, specially from musicians who use a lot of virtual instruments, they all mentioned that the auto instruments sounded real and human-like.
I’ve also been using these ‘automatic djembe’ to play and practice guitar and bass, it’s a lot of fun, just like jamming with a friend (except Kontakt will keep steadier time and won’t get tired!)
The new sampling and programming techniques open up new perspectives, and I’ll definitely try to apply the concept to other percussion instruments in the future. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have ideas for new features or requests for new instruments :)
Working on Magic Djembe has been the most rewarding sampling project for me. The goals and expectations were set very high, possibly because of some kind of emotional connection to the instrument.
Off course, releasing such a product as a one-man company means a lot of tedious work, with countless hours spent on concepts, editing, programming or graphics, but how much is this really compared to the weeks and months it took for the forgeron (blacksmith) to actually built the instrument with his hands in the first place?
‘Ce djembe, il est magique’
MAGIC DJEMBE: watch the video