Contextual Associations

The kutiriba is a single-head membranophone of the Mandinka, who are descendants of the Mande peoples of western Africa. The Mandinka now reside primarily in Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. The kutiriba is one of three drums used almost exclusively in the Mandinka tangtango ensemble (see Tantango Ensemble of the Mandinka from Gambia) to enliven life-cycle rituals and agricultural and recreational events. Unlike for some Mandinka instruments (korakontingo, and balo), there are no caste restrictions on who may play tantango drums. Drumming, however, is restricted only to men; women are disallowed from even touching the instrument due to notions of physical purity.


The kutiriba (lit., big kutiro) is a single-skin open goblet drum hewn from a single log of red mahogany (kembo). The head is made from goatskin (baa) or small bush antelope (minango) that is both pegged and laced to the instrument’s upper body. Five sharply tapered, carved wooden pegs protrude approximately one third of the way down the instrument’s body. The laces serve to snug the head to the body as well as greatly facilitate the tension adjustment of the drumhead. To this end, the laces are woven through vertical slits in the skin (direct lacing) just below the lip of the drum and are tied under each thick peg, acting as tension loops. Normally made from twisted strips of antelope hide the laces on this instrument are, instead, synthetic (perhaps nylon) webbing. Nylon twine is looped several times around the head in two locations providing extra snuggling. Its slender stick beater,carved from a mangrove root due to that materials resilience, tapers to a blunt point at one end and has decorative notches carved near the other end.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

One of two accompanying drums in the tantango ensemble, the kutiriba is played by a seated musician with the drum between his thighs. It is struck using an open left-hand and a stick in right-hand. The minimal vocabulary necessary to play the drums consists of two different hand strokes (an open bounced, kun, and damped stroke, ba) and two different stick strokes (a bounce, din, and press da). From these, a collage of sounds may be generated.


For Charry, “there is little historical documentation to support speculation on the age of various Mandinka drums.” And, while drum practices in the region are mentioned in writing as far back 1068, it remains unclear which drums are being described and who is playing them until the written records of the 20th century.

Bibliographic Citations

Charry, Eric. 2000. Mande Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Knight, Roderic. 1984. "Music in Africa: The Manding Contexts." In Performance Practice: Ethnomusicological Perspectives, ed. Gerard Behague, pp. 53-90. Westport: Greenwood Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Nation: Gambia

Formation: Mandinka

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.26 membranophone--goblet-shaped drum: the body consists of a main section which is either cup shaped or cylindrical, and a slender stem

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - goblet

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: unframed

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane lapped over pegs protruding from shell

Membrane tension control: adjusting depth of pegs in shell

Sounding for membranophone: striking with one hand and one handheld beater

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


17 in. high 8.5 in. diameter of upper opening 7 in. diameter of lower opening 5 in. diameter at narrowest point

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
cord - synthetic

Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson