When you are gathering the materials for the replacement of your djembe head, you'll notice that there is a large variety of djembe skins on offer.
I love to observe African drum builders going through piles and piles of hides, carefully selecting their material. Here is what I've learned from them.
These tips will help you find the most suitable skins for traditional djembe drum heads:
Although more and more drummers enjoy to play calf skin, goat skin is still used for most African djembes. Goat hides are cheaper and more easily available. They are also easier to play and to tune. Unless you are a very experienced drummer, I recommend you pick goat.
For traditional djembes, make sure you use skins from West African countries only, such as Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso etc. The goats in those countries are taller and stronger than the ones we know in the West. You'll probably stumble upon skins from Pakistan as well. They may be suitable for Doumbeks and other Oriental drums, but you should not use them for your African djembe.
(By the way: You can be assured that no West African goat gets killed for the sole purpose of its skin being sold to the West. The people in West Africa depend on goat meat for surviving and make good use of every part of the animal.)
It certainly is tempting to buy a skin with the hair already removed. That means less work for you and a smoother feel of the finished drum. However, they may have been shaved with chemicals or in a wet condition, which makes them weak or produce a rather dull sound. Therefore, African drum builders usually shave the hides AFTER the mounting. That also gives you the option of covering the rings with the cute fur. But the choice is yours.
I recommend you buy a full hide, rather than a pre-cut one. This gives you more flexibility to work around possible imperfections in the skin. And I find it much easier to mount and pull a full skin compared to those neatly cut skins, especially if you want it to cover the rings. Whichever you chose, make sure it is big enough for your drum.
These goat skins come from West Africa and can easily be ordered online. Just click:
If you are lucky enough to have a vendor of djembe skins close to you, you can inspect the thickness and and quality of his skins yourself:
The thinner the skin, the easier it is to produce high slaps. But thin skins also tend to have an annoying ringing sound and break faster. Choose a medium to thick hide.
Check the hairless side of the hide for scars, thin spots and its overall appearance. Does it look healthy or is it dried out? No hide is perfect, but if you have several to compare, you'll find the best one possible for your djembe.