“Rhythms of Culture: Djembe and African Memory in African-American Cultural Traditions” by Tanya Y. Price

“Rhythms of Culture: Djembe and African Memory in African-American Cultural Traditions” by Tanya Y. Price (2013) delves into the cultural significance of the djembe drum, its journey from West Africa to the global stage, and its role in cultural diffusion and identity formation, particularly among African-American communities. This study highlights the djembe not only as a musical instrument but as a potent symbol of African heritage and a medium for cultural exchange and reconnection with African roots.

Cultural Diffusion:

Price explores how the djembe drum, originating among the Mandingue people of West Africa, has transcended its traditional settings to become a global icon of African music and culture. The migration of Africans and their descendants to other parts of the world, coupled with interest from non-African populations, has propelled the djembe into a position of prominence in the world music scene. This diffusion has been facilitated through both formal instruction in African arts, including drum and dance workshops, and informal practices, such as community drum circles and performances.

The author emphasizes the role of master drummers, such as Mamady Keïta, in spreading the knowledge and techniques of djembe drumming. Through their teachings, performances, and recordings, these cultural ambassadors have been instrumental in making the djembe accessible to a global audience, thereby fostering a deeper appreciation for and engagement with African musical traditions.

Identity Formation:

Price’s research further examines how the djembe serves as a vehicle for cultural identity and memory, particularly among African Americans. The transatlantic slave trade resulted in the separation of Africans from their homeland and cultural heritage. The djembe, with its deep roots in West African culture, offers a tangible link to the ancestral past and a means of reclaiming and celebrating African identity.

The study discusses how African-American music, influenced by African musical idioms and the use of the djembe, has become a dominant force in world music. This has not only exposed non-African populations to African cultural practices but has also allowed African Americans to explore and express their cultural heritage. The djembe becomes a symbol of resilience, continuity, and cultural pride, bridging the gap between the African continent and the African Diaspora.


Tanya Y. Price’s paper provides a comprehensive overview of the djembe’s significance beyond its musical attributes, highlighting its role in cultural diffusion and the formation of identity. The djembe is more than an instrument; it is a catalyst for cultural exchange, a source of communal bonding, and a means of reconnecting with and preserving African heritage. Through the lens of the djembe, we see the powerful impact of cultural arts in transcending borders, fostering understanding, and nurturing a shared sense of identity among people of African descent worldwide.

This exploration into the cultural dynamics surrounding the djembe underscores the importance of preserving and promoting traditional arts as vehicles for cultural expression and identity. The djembe’s journey from West Africa to the global stage exemplifies the transformative power of music in bridging cultural divides and enriching the tapestry of human experience.