Like every musical instrument, djembe needs respect and care to keep high quality of the sounds and its components. If you learn to take care of your djembe it will serve you for years. The lifetime of skin and rope will depend on drumming frequency and the care level. Keep and transport your djembe only in a special djembe case, so falls and bumps will not have strong impact on the base and the leather membrane.
Wood (if not covered by lacquer) and animal skin are leaky materials taking and leaving water when the climate changes. Goat skin changes significantly from temperature and moisture leaps as it is thinner and softer than skin of other big animals. When the water is absorbed, skin cells expand, increasing the total area. That is why the drum loses is straining and shrinks in the atmosphere of high humidity. If the wood is not dried properly, the cracks in the instrument’s body are deep. Don’t leave your set drum in a car during a hot summer day and don’t place your djembe near the heater especially if the instrument is brought from the cold! Otherwise the skin can break!
Keep your djembe with love, avoid long contact with direct sunlight, water, wet earth, extra heat and cold. While transporting, protect your drum from scars and bruises by placing it in a case. If a djembe is put from one climate to another, give it some time for adaptation before drumming. Some small body cracks which can appear while using the djembe instrument can be easily repaired at home.
Choosing and using oil
Some natural tree and vegetable oils turn into resin after some time inside the wood, strengthen the wood grain and, what is the most important, prevent the instrument body from water by pushing it off. Linen and teak oils are like this. Soaking the djembe instrument body by several layers of such oils, you can reach the same protection level as when using polyurethane lacquer. As a result, the sound is becoming richer in overtones, more warm and natural.
Shea and coconut oil are good for djembe surface care. They don’t turn into resin and don’t pour deeply, but moist the wood surface, keeping the features which are necessary for good sound quality. If your djembe drum has already been soaked by oil, we advice you to use coconut or shea oil to create additional waterproof membrane for djembe, to protect it from cracks and to highlight the wood’s natural beauty and grain.
Note: If your djembe is covered by lacquer, you don’t need to soak the wood with oil! On the other side, if the drum is soaked by oil, the lacquer will not lay on it.
When the wood is dried and small cracks begin to appear, it is the time for another moisture and nutrition for wood. For reaching the best processing result, ensure that the wood surface is clean and dry. Coconut or shea (karite) oil are drawn by a brush or a cloth. Wood will sip more when its holes are opened and the oil is more liquid. Put your djembe into the sunlight for some minutes to warm the wood surface and then leave your instrument under the sun for several hours after processing. Wood will sip and keep more oil. After ending the procedure, take away the extra oil by a clean cloth, and then repeat this process for several times to keep the wood firm and healthy.
Natural goat skin membrane
Being influenced by different factors, skin can drain, stretch, be torn or pinned. Natural animal skin fat helps to make the overtones and makes the sound stronger, that is why we advice to use the skin which was not much processed industrially by chemicals which remove all fur, pigment spots and natural fat. In the lapse of time, all skin will drain and crack, so keep your djembe membrane more moist and protected.
The best way to keep the natural features of goat skin on a djembe is to play it. Natural fat from your hand palms will massage and enrich goat skin, keeping it firm and long-living. If you don;t play your djembe drum regularly, it would be good to have natural shea oil which can be drawn from time to time. For drums which are being played regularly, use small amounts of shea oil but not often, mostly to membrane pieces which are not in contact with your hands. You shouldn’t use moisture creams for human skin as they often contain additional chemicals weakening the features of tanned skin in the lapse of time and even draining it (like alcohol, for example). Moist your hands with a small amount of shea (karite) oil and then massage the ‘head’ of the drum. It will help you to keep the sound quality of your African drum for long.
Small Skin Repair
If the skin on a djembe has a small hole, you should replace it at last. A hole in the drumming lot of a djembe (not in touch with the ring or wood) will not let playing all the sound spectrum as the air will come through the hole spreading the sound vibration. But if your hole is small and located aside the main drumming surface, a super glue can fill it firmly to keep the instrument in the drumming mode without skin replacement. You can even use a bit of leather dust (getting it by grinding by a small sand-cloth), to fill the hole and strengthen the patch with the super glue. If there is only a blind hole or a surface cut, we advice you to strengthen the damaged area using the technique described above. It will let the leather serve you for long.
Repairing Wood Cracks
Wood drains from surface to center, so most djembe drums normally have micro cracks. If they were made before, you can even leave them unnoticed. In some cases, no matter how much oil was drawn on wood, it will crack anyway, putting off the inner straining from the surface and becoming more stable. That is why we don’t recommend you to close the crack by squeezing its edges as it can lead to cracks in other places.
The simplest way to repair small djembe cracks is with the super glue and a sand-cloth. Put away the extra fragile wood inside the crack and feel the beginning, the end and the depth of the crack, piercing the crack’s depth with a thin knife (with no extra force). After that, clean the djembe body above the crack with a sand-cloth (#100 is OK). The appearing small wood dust will reach the crack. Pierce the dust slightly inside the crack using a knife and then bark the surface around and above the crack with a sand-cloth again. Then pour the super glue along the crack and then bark firmly with a sand-cloth immediately, don’t wait until the glue is fixed. Repeat the procedure until the crack is closed completely.
To repair medium-sized cracks in African djembe drums, you need small-sized sawdust (close to wood powder). At the beginning, remove all dirt and oil in the repair area, and ensure that the surface is dry. Fill all cracks with sawdust, rubbing it firmly with a sand-cloth into the place of the crack. Pour the glue carefully to the sawdust inside the crack. The chemical reaction with the glue can be accompanied by heating and even smoke. Therefore, repair your drum like this in an air-ventilated area, use the fan, open all windows. When the mixture is fixed, repeat this procedure until all the cracks are filled with sawdust and glue. To repair the crack in the same color with the drum, make the sawdust by polishing the bottom of your djembe (a grinder with an abrasive disc pad can help you). If sawdust or glue don’t attach, the reason is usually in the excess oil or moisture in the wood.
In some cases, the crack can be so wide that it can extend completely through the whole wood. In this case the use of a small amount of saw dust or glue as the adhesive is probably not suitable. To repair larger cracks, you need some epoxy or carpenter’s glue (D4, like Titebond), and also long and constant work for compressing the wood. Clamps, ties or belts for heavy objects can help you. Make sure that the surface is clean, draw the adhesive (follow the instructions on the label for best results) and firmly reconnect the edge of the crack together. After the recommended drying time, remove the clips and then remove the excess glue and the dirt from the surface by a cloth.