Secret Bass Dun Duns

Community drum circle in deepest Hertfordshire

Weapons of Massed Emotion used by the Secret Bass organisation

[ Malc playing dun duns with Vitae Drum Circle ]We now have our own set of dun duns (also called doun douns or djun djuns) which were hand-made for us by a friend in Guinea and shipped over, so now we can fully live up to our name and extend our repertoire down into subsonic frequencies. We initially got four drums: two kenkeni (the smallest size), one sangban (medium) and one dununba (*huge*). The kenkenis are actually quite large and sonorous, so we now use them as sangbans (and the original low-pitched sangban as a dununba) once we also got two tiny Kambala kenkenis (order code KDO160) which are highly recommended. The largest drum has a special name given only to the most humoungous sizes which tend to be doorway-unfriendly: dununbelebeleba or dundunbelebeleba, where ba means 'big' and bele means 'very' (hence the name of the rhythm Bele Bele referring to 'charisma').

Dun dun sizes
Name Length Skin Diameter Drum Diameter
Kenkeni #1 36 cm = 14" 23 cm = 9" 27 cm = 10.75"
Kenkeni #2 36 cm = 14" 23 cm = 9" 27 cm = 10.75"
Sangban #1 52 cm = 20.5" 26 cm = 10" 29 cm = 11.5"
Sangban #2 50.5 cm = 20" 28 cm = 11" 32 cm = 12.5"
Dununba 57 cm = 22.5" 34 cm = 13.5" 38 cm = 15"
Dununbelebeleba 80 cm = 31.5" 42 cm = 16.5" 47 cm = 18.5"

In some areas of Guinea, each drum is played by one person, allowing for more speed+stamina with simpler patterns. This looks great on stage, showing the interplay between the separate rhythms. Other regions have one drummer playing all three drums vertically, stood on the floor often roped together, in what is known as 'ballet-style' where it became popular to enable more complex double-handed strokes, albeit at the expense of losing the bell part. Each way has its merits for various rhythms. We like to combine the two, ideally have three single duns plus the large dununbelebeleba standing vertically for double-handed soloing :-) [ Marjolein playing dun duns at Hertford Castle ]If sometimes there aren't enough people, we play them in pairs, usually with one person teaching another, or two separate interlocking dun dun parts. Sometimes one player stands between two pairs, playing all four with forehand and backhand strokes in a ritualistic dance :-)

Dun dun stands

Tony playing kenkeni+dununba ] Jane playing kenkeni+sangban | [ Jane and Tony playing dun duns |An easy way to make a dun dun stand is a chair with a cushioned seat and straight back, without arms; the duns can be tied to this with bungee cords. However, since I'm taller than your average bear, a better temporary solution is to use one of those cheap fold-up canvas fishing/camping armchairs, and rest the dun dun across the arms (the arms may need an extra bungee to hold them closer together if the dun dun is not wide enough to span the arms). This cheap chair eventually fell apart, so for a while we used folding wooden garden chairs, although they were still too low for me.

[ Lots of dun duns :-) |Steve from Vitae recently built us some fabulous X-stands, handmade from trees he'd grown himself :-) You can see them in the photo (left) - ours are the two sets on the left hand side of the picture. One side of the X is extended to allow a kenkeni to be swiftly balanced on top when there's not even time to bungee it together (late for rehearsal again!). Since then he's made some more stands for single drums, which have awesome stage presence (more pics to follow).

[ Drumzkool's cool kenkeni stand | Drumzkool's elegant stands for sangbans | Drumzkool's elegant dun dun stands |I recently saw some nice modern designs for dun dun stands (pictured right) used by Drumzkool, although I think I prefer traditional X-stands. Check out this inventive design for vertical dun dun stands.

With a bit of practice, I have now found the optimum soft beater for a warm dun dun sound without any sharp thwack attack. For extra power, I also use a large, heavy hardwood stick rounded off at the ends with a file. Screwdrivers make ideal bell sticks. Sadly, one of our babies was wounded :-( but is now fixed :-)

© copyright Malcolm Smith 2005-08-01 - last updated 2009-08-10