Dunun (also spelled dundun or doundoun) is the generic name for a family of West African drums that developed alongside the djembe in the Mande drum ensemble.
The three dununs form the basis of rhythm. Each drum has a different sound: the dunumba has the lowest pitch, the kenkeni has the highest and the sangban pitched between the two, represents the heart rhythm. Of cylindrical shape and provided with two skins they are played in a horizontal position, using a large rod, and are surmounted by a forged metal bell that is struck with the other hand, with an iron rod or ring.
A dunun is a rope-tuned cylindrical drum with a rawhide skin at both ends, most commonly cow or goat. The drum is played with a stick. Depending on the region, a plain straight stick, curved stick with flat head (similar to the stick used for a tama), or a straight stick with a cylindrical head attached at right angles near one end may be used to strike the skin.
Traditionally, the drum is played horizontally (placed on a stand or worn with a shoulder strap). For a right-handed player, the right hand plays the skin and the left hand optionally plays a bell that may be mounted on top of the drum or held in the left hand.
Three different sizes of dunun are commonly played in West Africa.
- The dundunba (also spelled dununba) is the largest dunun and has the lowest pitch. Typical size is 60–70 cm (24–28 in) in length and 40–50 cm (16–20 in) in diameter. “Ba” means “big” in the Malinké language, so “dundunba” literally means “big dunun”.
- The sangban is of medium size, with higher pitch than the dundunba. Typical size is 50–60 cm (20–24 in) in length and 30–40 cm (12–16 in) in diameter.
- The kenkeni is the smallest dunun and has the highest pitch. Typical size is 45–50 cm (18–20 in) in length and 25–35 cm (10–14 in) in diameter.
Dunun are always played in an ensemble with one or more djembes.
The names of the drums are onomatopoeic, meaning that they sound like the thing they describe. This is common for West African instruments. Shekere (gourd rattle), sege sege (metal djembe rattle), kese kese (woven basket rattle), and kenken (a bell played with dunun) are Malinké onomatopoeic terms for other instruments that are commonly played together with dunun and djembe.
Dundunba, sangban, kenkeni, kensedeni, and kensereni are Malinké terms. (Kensedeni and kensereni are synonyms for kenkeni.) In Mali and northeast Guinea, the dundunba and sangban are often both referred to as jeli-dunun (also spelled djeli-dunun) because they were traditionally played by the jelis (French: griots). Among the Bamana people in Mali, the dundunba is known as khassonka dunun and the sangban is known as konkoni (played without a bell). There, the drums are headed with goatskin instead of the cowskin used elsewhere.
The name djun djun is a common western misnomer. There is no such word in the Malinké language and this term should not be used.
A dunun player is generically known as a dununfola (literally, “one who plays dunun”). Specifically, the kenkeni, sangban, and dununba players are referred to as kenkenifola, sangbanfola, and dununbafola, respectively.