Beat the Drum Slowly

By Paul Moffett

The approach of Christmas converges nicely with a recent development in the men's movement that encourages men to seek their "inner, primitive male self." That can mean only one thing _ drum sales will be good this year.

So where can you find those instruments necessary for your man (or yourself) to find that inner self?

If you want to start with professional instruments, you have to go to the family-owned Kente International, run by Musa Uthman, percussionist for the local reggae/worldbeat band Serpent Wisdom. Located at 1954 Bonnycastle, just off Bardstown Road, the brightly painted shop looks and smells like a head shop of old.

However, where head shops catered to hippies seeking a quiet place to buy JOBs and bongs, Kente is an import shop which also sells a wide variety of percussion instruments from around the planet, with a particular focus on West African products.

Uthman is the best promoter of his merchandise, often playing his djamba (pronounced jim-bay) at local festivals. You've probably seen him on those segments that close out TV news programs. In addition to selling you a percussion instrument, he'll give you lessons.

The djamba, a Senegalese instrument, is cut from a single piece of mahogany, with a goatskin drumhead tightened by ropes. Uthman likes the instrument because it has a range of tones. Djambas will set you back $250 to $350.

The double-ended "talking drum," called a donno, is from Ghana and has a bass or "male" tone at one end and a more treble or "female" tone at the other. Donnos start at about $70.

From India, there are the thin duf drums, which come in a set of four. They go for $25 - $65 individually. You can also buy the Indian tabla, a peg-tuned drum sold in pairs for $250.

If you want your drum to serve as art object, buy the saba, another peg-tuned drum similar to the djamba but with more intricate carvings.

If drums don't turn you on, you could try the ballaphone, a wooden xylophone, which has gourds for resonators. Kente sells new ones for about $250 and has an antique ballaphone priced at $500.

The A'gogo bell is a double iron bell, often described as one bell chasing another. Alternately, you could pick up a shakara, a gourd with a net of shell beads that produces a sound similar to a marimba. Kente also has hand-crafted kalimbas, just like the one that soothed Humphrey Bogart in the opening scenes from African Queen.

For those whose rhythmic skill might be a tad rusty, there is the Chilean rain stick, made from a long cactus with its thorns driven in. When the seeds inside have dried, they fall through and around the thorns with a shimmering sound.

Kente also has a variety of wooden flutes from India and Madagascar. You can special order a cora, an African stringed instrument which resembles a guitar and uses a large, round gourd for its body, as well as other instruments.

Besides the instruments, Kente handles colorful clothing, masks, soapstone carvings, jewelry, wooden walking sticks of exquisite craftsmanship and other imported items.

The phone number at Kente International is 459-4595.

If you want to experiment with exotic instruments but don't want to lay out the kind of cash the professional instruments require, then you should drop in on Just Creations, a Third-World crafts shop. Located at 2722 Frankfort, at the corner of Frankfort and Bayly, the building housed a bookstore and a religious-crafts shop before it reached its current manifestation. Operated by Just Enterprise as a not-for-profit business, Just Creations has as its purpose the creation of jobs in the Third World through the marketing of peasant crafts - sort of a politically correct Pier 1.

In addition to a dazzling array of dolls, wall hangings, paintings, wicker baskets and doodads, buttons, stickers and more, the store sells reasonably priced percussion and rhythm instruments from around the world.

Many of the instruments are from Cameroon and include, among other things, a rattle called a calabash, which is a gourd filled with seeds and played like a Prince Albert can; a small talking drum; a beaded calabash; a double-gong iron bell; and double wicker hand rattles.

From Kenya comes the twirling hand drum, while South America contributes a variety of Bolivian flutes and ceramic Peruvian whistles, including the indisputably sexist Four Women Gossipers. There is a variety of Honduran ceramic bells and an Indonesian marimba-like instrument called an angklung.

All the instruments are under $25, so you can help out a Third World artisan and buy an unusual gift without doing serious damage to your bank account. For more information, call Just Creations at 897-7319.

On the other hand, if you would rather spend your money on home-grown drums, check out the pottery drums thrown by Jim Griley, owner of Griley Pottery. Modeled after a Middle Eastern drum called a dumbek, the drums are similar in appearance to the djamba but are smaller and have a thin cowhide head.

Griley first made bongos but switched to the dumbek after seeing a wooden drum played by noted local poet Umar Williams. His effort to copy Williams' drum resulted in his current line of instruments. A custom-made dumbek is $125.

Griley can be reached at 585-5447 or by writing to P. O. Box 14081, Louisville, KY 40214. He can also be seen playing his dumbek at various open stages around town.