drum (Lele)

Also:       ngeende      bulup      

Contextual Associations

This single-head membranophone is attributed to the Lele tribe, a subgroup of the Kuba people from southwest Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Other nearly identical drums variously called ngeende or bulup are credited to the Kuba and are pictured in Dagan (p. 140), Boone (Plate XXXIX), and DjeDje (p. 337). For the Kuba, the significance of the iconography on this drum's handle is explained by Dagan: " . . . [this] motif of a cut hand was frequent on Bakuba utilitarian objects. In the past, notables (Longomo) could not be admitted to the Yolo cast, or great warriors, before having killed an enemy. Proof of such a feat was an enemy's cut hand which was presented to the community's notables" (p. 140). Some surface areas are further incised with simple geometric designs, as are many drums from this part of the DRC. Both men and women can play drums in Kuba and Lele cultures, and their music was, at least in the past, used during life-cycle rituals and in ceremonies of the nobility.


The shell of this drum is carved from a solid block of wood. The internal shape of its resonating chamber is more cylindrical in shape than its curvaceous exterior profile, and just above the base of the drum it narrows down to a small opening about three inches in diameter. The upper opening of the shell is covered with a membrane. The method of attaching the drumhead to the shell is, in large part, similar to other drums in the collection from southwest Democratic Republic of the Congo. A band or collar of leather a few inches wide and with its ends sewn together runs around the circumference of the shell a few inches below the rim of the drum’s upper opening. The bottom edge of this belt is securely attached to the shell with numerous wooden pins that are pounded into holes drilled in the shell. Small holes are punched around the belt and the edge of the circular membrane at about one-inch intervals. A thread of vine or strong plant fiber is used to lace the head to the belt in an ‘H’ pattern, alternately passing through a hole in the edge of the membrane and in the belt (see detail photo). It is at this stage of manufacture that the tension is most likely introduced to the drumhead. At some point in the drum’s existence a circle of natural rubber was applied to the center of the drumhead adding to its mass and probably enhancing the instrument’s bass range.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

Most tall Lele and Kuba drums from this part of the DRC are played while standing with drum shell pinched between the player’s knees or thighs and leaning forward (see photo 66.1 in Dagan, p. 134). The player uses the palms of both hands to strike the drumhead.


The published literature on the musical instruments of this area of Africa does not reveal much in regard to the history and evolution of musical instruments in general. Drums have been reported and collected for museums since the 1880s when the earliest contact between Europeans and the peoples of what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo took place.

Bibliographic Citations

Boone, Olga. 1951. Les Tambours du Congo Belge et du Ruanda-Urundi. Tervuren, Belgium: Musee du Congo Belge.

Dagan, Esther A. 1993. Drums: The Heartbeat of Africa. Montreal: Galerie Amrad African Art Publications.

Cameron, Elizabeth, and Doran H. Ross. 1999. “Part Three: Catalog.” In Turn Up the Volume!: A Celegration of African Music. ed. DjeDje, Jacqueline Cogdell. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, pp. 336-337.

Kreamer, Christine Mullen, and Marie-Therese Brincade. 1989. “Figure 12: Drum. Zaire, Kuba.” In Sounding Forms: African Musical Instruments. ed. Marie-Therese Brincade. New York: American Federation of Arts, p. 111.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: Central Africa

Nation: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Formation: Lele

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.28 membranophone--vase-shaped drum: the body is waisted and rests on an open foot that may be flared; the upper section is conical, and the lower section, which is rectilinear or curvilinear in profile, tapers towards the foot; these drums have a single membrane

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - pedestal

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: framed by a flexible belt

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane laced to belt-like counterhoop encircling and nailed to shell

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking directly with both hands

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


29.1 in. height

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
rubber - natural
lacing - plant fiber

Entry Author

Roger Vetter