Difference Between the Ashiko and Djembe Drum

Have you ever wondered about the fascinating differences between the ashiko and djembe drum? These traditional African percussion instruments share a common history and purpose, yet each offers unique characteristics that set them apart.

While the popular djembe drum often takes the spotlight, the lesser-known ashiko drum holds its own with a distinctive sound and technique.

Learn what truly makes these drums stand out and delve into the rich cultural significance behind them.

Origins of the Ashiko Drum

The ashiko drum traces its origins back to the rich cultural heritage of the Yoruba people, primarily in present-day Nigeria and Benin in West Africa.

The word “ashiko” itself is derived from the Yoruba language and carries multiple meanings, including “drum,” “time-frame,” or “freedom,” depending on tonal nuances.

In Yoruba culture, the ashiko drum holds great significance and has been used for centuries in community celebrations and ceremonial rituals.

It is considered a “talking drum” due to its ability to bend pitch, allowing skilled drummers to communicate and convey messages through drumming patterns and rhythms.

The influence of the ashiko drum extends beyond its origin in West Africa. Similar cone-shaped drums can be found in Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American cultures, particularly in Cuba.

These drums share similarities in shape and tonal characteristics, showcasing the interconnectedness of musical traditions across different regions.

During the 1930s, the ashiko drum gained popularity in the United States through the efforts of Nigerian drummer Moses Mianns.

It further soared to prominence with the touring folkloric ensemble led by Yoruba musician Babatunde Olatunji, spreading the enchanting rhythms and cultural heritage of the ashiko drum to diverse audiences.

The Yoruba Cultural Influence

  • The Yoruba people primarily reside in Nigeria and Benin, where the ashiko drum originated
  • Drumming has a deep cultural significance in Yoruba society, often used in community celebrations and rituals
  • The ashiko’s unique ability to bend pitch through tensioned ropes makes it a versatile “talking drum” in Yoruba culture

Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Connection

  • Similar cone-shaped drums can be found in Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin American cultures, especially in Cuba
  • These drums share similarities in shape and tonal characteristics with the ashiko, highlighting cross-cultural musical influences
  • The ashiko’s presence in these cultures further emphasizes its cultural significance and widespread appeal

Influence in the United States

  • Nigerian drummer Moses Mianns introduced the ashiko drum to the United States in the 1930s
  • Babatunde Olatunji’s touring ensemble popularized the ashiko drum, captivating audiences with its mesmerizing rhythms and cultural heritage
  • The ashiko drum’s influence continues to resonate in the diverse musical landscape of the United States

Characteristics of the Ashiko Drum

The ashiko drum is a unique percussion instrument with distinct characteristics that set it apart from other drums. Here are some key features of the ashiko drum:

  1. Shape: The ashiko drum is shaped like a tapered cylinder or truncated cone, with the head on the wide end and the narrow end open. This design contributes to the drum’s unique sound and resonance.
  2. Material: Traditionally, the ashiko drum is made of hardwood, which ensures durability and enhances the drum’s tonal qualities. The thick hide of the drumhead is often made from calfskin or goatskin, creating a vibrant sound.
  3. Playing Technique: The ashiko drum is played with the hands, allowing the player to create a range of tones and dynamics. The drum can be tuned using ropes to achieve different pitches and tension levels, providing flexibility and versatility in playing styles.
  4. Sonic Similarities: Despite its unique characteristics, the ashiko drum shares sonic similarities with the djembe due to the goatskin head. However, the longer cylinder shape of the ashiko produces a deeper bass tone compared to the bowl-shaped djembe.
  5. Vertical Staves: Modern ashiko drums often feature vertical staves, further enhancing the drum’s structural integrity and resonance. This construction method allows for greater control over the drum’s tone and volume.
  6. Conga-Like Sound: The ashiko drum is known for its conga-like sound, characterized by a deep, resonant bass tone. This unique sound adds depth and richness to any musical performance or drum ensemble.
  7. Modern Construction Methods: While the ashiko drum has traditional roots, modern construction methods have been incorporated to meet the demands of contemporary musicians. Some ashiko drums feature thinner goatskin heads or cowhide, offering different tonal variations.

Overall, the ashiko drum exhibits a combination of traditional craftsmanship and modern construction techniques, resulting in a drum that showcases a unique blend of cultural heritage and innovative design.

characteristics of ashiko drum
ShapeTapered cylinder or truncated cone
MaterialHardwood with calfskin or goatskin hide
Playing TechniqueHand played, tuned with ropes
Sonic SimilaritiesSimilar to the djembe but with a deeper bass tone
Vertical StavesEnhanced structural integrity and resonance
Conga-Like SoundDeep, resonant bass tone
Modern Construction MethodsThinner goatskin heads or cowhide for tonal variations

Ashiko Drum in the Modern Era

The ashiko drum has witnessed a surge in popularity in the modern era, especially within the vibrant drumming communities of the European-American drum movement.

While its fame may have diminished compared to well-known instruments like the djembe, conga, or bongos, the ashiko continues to hold a significant place in the world of hand percussion.

Ashiko drums are renowned for their exceptional craftsmanship, as they are meticulously handcrafted using top-quality materials. Many drum builders strive to honor the instrument’s rich tradition, ensuring that each ashiko drum delivers its distinctive sound and requirements.

These drums are built in an eco-friendly manner, allowing for greater control over the wood selection, tonal characteristics, and playability of the instrument.

Despite the variations in design and construction, the ashiko maintains a standard of excellence in quality control. Each drum is a unique work of art, captivating drummers who seek a deeper connection to rhythm and an appreciation for the earth.

ashiko drum popularity

The Ashiko in Drumming Communities

  • The European-American drum movement has embraced the ashiko drum, recognizing its unique qualities and contribution to the percussive landscape.
  • Drumming communities value the distinct sound and versatility of the ashiko, incorporating it into their performances, drum circles, and musical endeavors.
  • The ashiko provides an alternative and complementary voice to other drums in the ensemble, adding depth and richness to the rhythmic tapestry.
  • Its popularity may vary across different regions and communities, but the ashiko remains an instrument of choice for percussion enthusiasts and musicians.

Drummers appreciate the ashiko’s ability to evoke a conga-like sound while offering its unique character and cultural significance.

As drumming continues to evolve, the ashiko drum stands as a testament to the enduring appeal and innovation within the world of hand percussion.

Rhythm House Drums Ashikos and Ngomas

If you’re in search of handcrafted ashiko drums and Ngomas, look no further than Rhythm House Drums. This renowned shop, located in Waynesboro, VA, offers a wide selection of meticulously crafted drums in various styles and woods.

At Rhythm House Drums, every drum is carefully built by hand using top-quality materials and incorporates extensive research into the instrument’s history and sound.

The expert craftsmen at Rhythm House Drums utilize modern construction methods while maintaining a commitment to eco-friendly practices, ensuring that each ashiko drum meets the highest standards of quality and sustainability.

What sets Rhythm House Drums apart is their dedication to customization. They offer custom orders, allowing drummers to choose the specifications that best suit their preferences and needs. Whether you’re looking for a specific wood type, finish, or size, Rhythm House Drums will work with you to create the perfect ashiko drum or Ngoma.

Sample Customization Options:

  • Wood type (e.g., mahogany, oak, maple)
  • Drum size (e.g., 10-inch, 12-inch, 14-inch)
  • Finish (e.g., natural, stained, painted)
  • Hardware (e.g., rope color, tensioning system)
  • Carving or engraving details

Whether you’re a professional drummer or a passionate enthusiast, Rhythm House Drums’ ashikos and Ngomas are sure to exceed your expectations.

With their commitment to top-quality materials, modern construction methods, and excellence in quality control, Rhythm House Drums is the go-to destination for drummers seeking exceptional instruments that combine craftsmanship with rich, authentic sound.

Experience the artistry and precision of Rhythm House Drums by placing your custom order today. Join the ranks of drummers who have discovered the beauty and versatility offered by these handcrafted ashiko drums and Ngomas.


The difference between the ashiko and djembe drum lies in their shape, sound, and cultural significance.

While both drums originated in West Africa and offer unique qualities, the ashiko’s cone-like shape and “talking drum” feature set it apart from the djembe. The ashiko’s sound is deeper and softer, making it a popular choice for a conga-like sound.

The craftsmanship and cultural heritage of both drums provide insight into the history and traditions of the Yoruba tribe and other African cultures.

Modern construction methods, such as those used by Rhythm House Drums, allow for customization and control over the drum’s characteristics.

Yet, the choice between the ashiko and djembe drum comes down to personal preference and the desired sound and experience of each drummer.

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