One place in Uganda where you are guaranteed to get a drum and a good one is a small town called Mpambire which is found on your way to Bwindi Impenetrable national park. It is a small town like many along the Kampala – Masaka highway and could easily be missed if you are not looking closely. This small town is home to the Buganda Royal Drum makers, families who are responsible for creating the distinct drums of Buganda. These families have carried on the drum making skills throughout generations; one could say it’s in their blood. Most of the drum makers found in this little town learnt their skill from their fathers who also learnt from their fathers and so on.
Drum making in Mpambire started hundreds of years ago, but the process and product is still pretty much the same today as it was then. There are few modifications here and there, and a few modern tools but the drum is still a marvelous work of art and sound. Drum makers from all parts of Uganda travel to the small town to learn the skills and to apprentice hoping to go back to their hometowns with these new skills and keep the art of drum making alive in Uganda.
There are about 12 different species of trees used in the drum making process. These are sturdy trees that do not crack and are resistant to insects and weevils. Getting quality trees is not as easy as it used to be, there is a lot of bribery that goes around. Bribes are often paid to forest rangers, and logging is done in the night to ensure that no one is caught. One large quality tree gives enough material to make up to 15 large drums.
The perfect drum is made of more than just the wood. There are also cow hides used on the surface. Why cow hides? Because bull hides are too thick and do not produce good sound. The process of preparing the skins involves wetting, drying and stretching the skins. The skins are then woven and stretched around the drum to give it that ancient authentic African sound. During the dry season, the process of preparing the cow hides can take a few days.