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-----Original Message-----
From: Steve Colvin <>
Date: Thursday, December 03, 1998 10:03 PM
Subject: djembe-l FAQ section

        Back in September I posted a question on traveling with djembes, and got some good responses.  I have consolidated the responses for possible inclusion in the djembe-l FAQ, if you think this "makes the cut".

From: HappyShel

I have travelled many times on airplane with djembe and the very best way is
to ALWAYS GATE CHECK IT.  Of course, you want to put your djembe into a case
of some sort.  I have used a duffle bag, from an Army/Navy store, and lined
the inside with foam rubber (very cheap).

You carry your djembe right to the gate and as you prepare to board the
plane, you ask the Gate attendant to, "Gate Check This."  The attendant will
tag it and then they will gently place your djembe in the cargo hold, in a
special place for perishables and fragile items.  When you land at your
destination, they will hand you your djembe at the GATE.  It's FREE and it's

Other than that, I've found that a djembe will fit in the Overhead of either
a MD-80 Super jet, a L1011 Jumbo or B747 Jumbo.  But, then again, if the
plane hits an air pocket, would you want a djembe falling on your head?

Guitar Center sells an inexpensive djembe case with backpack straps for
$60 - $80 that is lined with foam rubber.

Talking Drums, Greensboro, NC, also has a nice djembe case for about $75.

And the ultimate bag, one that I will attest to is African Percussion's
waterproof bag with drum hat for $150.

But, then again, it's your djembe.


From: Tom Harris
(referring to HappyShel's note)

This has worked for me many times as well.  Be prepared for the gate attendant
to tell you that you can't do it, though.  You have to be persistent, tell them
that you do this all of the time and have never had a problem before, and as a
last resort, ask that person if they are willing to be responsible for your $600
dollar drum.  The first time I tried it they were particularly resistant, and
were only able to accept that it would be OK when they put the same "Wheelchair"
tag on it as they put on my chair.

Don't take no for an answer.


From: Denis Robinson

I'm sorry to say I have a horror story to tell. (If you want you can
skip the horror story and move straight to the advice at the end.)

I've travelled by plane several times with djembes. A couple of times I was
allowed to carry it into the cabin where they found room in a locker where
the crew sometimes put their stuff. (I have the impression many jets have
some sort of locker for oversize storage. I think maybe a smaller djembe
would fit in the overhead locker; but mostly not. Mine don't.)

Sometimes I've not been allowed to carry djembes into the cabin. Which
means checking them. Sometimes this has been fine. BUT read on.

In July I was in Sydney. I took my first djembe with me but in Sydney I
bought a beautiful brand spanking new super duper Guinean djembe from Epizo
Bangoura. A friend of mine was there at the same time as me and agreed to
bring my first, now second-best (but dearly loved) djembe back for me; he
flew on a different flight and airline from me. We both did the same act at
check in (both djembes were in soft bags only: we wanted to minimize the
size to give the best chance of being able to take them into the cabin). We
asked to take them in the cabin, explaining that they were delicate musical
instruments and that the heads are particularly vulnerable. We were each
refused. Instead in each case the djembe bag was plastered with FRAGILE
stickers and we were told that they would be treated specially carefully.
But then in each case we were asked to sign a waiver acknowledging that
this was a fragile item inadequately packed.

OK. So I got to Auckland filled with trepidation. Fortunately my lovely
Epizo djembe survived perfectly. But my second-best djembe which my friend
was bringing via QANTAS (till then always one of my favourite airlines)
fared less well. When my friend collected it at baggage collection it was
*seriously*, and I mean *seriously* damaged.

Get this!! The damage was *not* to the head which was intact. (Naturally I
had undone quite a few knots on both djembes, by the way, so the heads were
relatively slack for the trip.) The damage was to the *BASE* of the djembe.
We figured QANTAS had to have run a truck over it or else dropped it onto
concrete from a height. I mean, the base of a djembe is a wooden tube of
reasonable thickness and should be able to take a certain amount of weight
or impact. This was in about 4 pieces!! That is to say, there were about 4
cracks running down the base, and at least two large pieces of wood were
completely separated (in one case it had split in such a way as to make it
look as if the base was separate and fitted into the bowl .. but it was
just the wood splitting along the grain).

In other words, what had happened to this djembe was something which would
quite likely damage any ordinary piece of luggage. It had been crushed so
hard it broke into pieces. "Fragile" didn't come into it. But the Catch-22
was that my friend had to sign a waiver in order for them to put the
FRAGILE stickers on the bag. So QANTAS was technically not liable.

Fortunately the story has a fairly happy ending. Another drummer friend of
mine was at the time working at a woodworking shop. He glued all the pieces
back together as well as possible. This left things pretty irregular so he
used a lathe to turn the base down a bit to get it even. Then he used
stainless steel wire to wrap the mid-section of the base for added
strength. (He used the lathe to do the wrapping.) It looks cool and sounded
as good as ever (and now I have put a better, Senegalese goatskin head on
it, it is sounding *better* than ever!).

Despite this happy outcome I took initial steps to try to complain to
QANTAS in the hope of getting a payout for the cost of repairs. But I soon
gave up (not persistent about such things): the only avenue I could find
was a phone number leading to an answer machine where you could leave a
message. Surprise surprise, my messages explaining my complaint were never

ADVICE: In future I guess I'll do what I've since seen someone else do. A
hard drum case would be one way to go but as you say, probably very
expensive. A cheaper option is to get hold of a big strong cardboard
carton, big enough for the djembe to stand up in and with a bit to spare.
Place djembe in carton, fill carton with shredded paper or polystyrene
peanuts or foam balls or somesuch light but protective filling. Cover with
FRAGILE stickers and pray ..

I think a cardboard box with light stuffing is at least safer than a drum
in a soft bag. The latter is I think an open invitation to chuck the thing
about ("chuck" = "throw" down here in the Antipodes), or worse. A cardboard
box with stuffing can be reasonably strong, and it will be moved and
stacked in a normal manner.

Hope this advice helps and partly compensates for the bad news horror story.



Glad you asked that question because I am about to embark on this very
type of expedition. It has been interesting getting others ideas on how
to handle this situation of flying with a djembe. Attached is a msg that
Dan Trevino posted a while back about a guy  in PA who makes bags. I
called him and he very graciously gave me all the pertinent info; the
bags are fairly expensive (the 'hardshell'  one costs as much as my
drum!) but they are of excellent quality, I am sure. So here is the text,
for anyone who is interested. 


Well gang,
    Great news for those of you who had asked about getting a custom made,
padded, colorful, professional-looking carrying bag for your jembe, junjun,
kora, balaphone, etc. Tony Lagrutta is back! He is the guy who made those
neat bags for Mamady Keita, Les Ballets Africans, Mahiri Fadjimba
Keita, me, and many others. Tony called me this past Saturday out of the blue.
He was down in Florida for a year working at a 'regular' job to earn some
money, but now he has returned to making custom bags. He now lives in a
small town in south-central Pennsylvania, McSherrystown, which is just west
of Hanover, Pa. I visited him and his lovely family on Sunday. He is open for
business' and is taking orders. His telephone number is now (717)   630-1104
and his address is 326A North Street, McSherrystown, Pa.17344. I can vouch
for the excellent quality of his work. His bags could outlive the instrument inside!
    If you have been thinking about getting one of his bags for your precious
drum or other instrument, now is the time to call him before he gets backlogged
with orders.

  Dan Trevino.......


From: Nadelman

Friends of mine are in Ubaka Hill's group "The ShapeShifters" and had to fly with their
drums. (In fact at least one, Susan Rapalee is on this list and, although she is generally
too busy to do more than an occasional scan, much less reply, it is just possible you
might get an answer from Anna Maria or her).

Anyway, they do use soft bags but the drum heads have a thick layer of very dense
foam over them. The foam over the drum head had a very particular look and feel to
it that was different from any we  had experienced before. It was supplied by Sekou
Jawara who headed the drums.  Recently I saw what appeared to be the same stuff
being sold as flat carpet padding. It is much denser than any normal foam.  On top
of that is a piece of 1/4 " plexiglass cut to fit the the diameter of the head. On top of
that goes the normal djembe cover. I guess wood or metal over the foam would work
as well, but the protection they are using seems ample.

Otherwise you might investigate the purchase of a  moving barrel just big enough to
fit the djembe. If you have room to store such a thing, I do not think they are very
expensive. Whether there would be additional airline fees is a whole 'nother question.

I have also heard some people say to undo a couple or three diamonds because of
air pressure. I did not think to ask Ubaka, Sue or Anna if they have been doing that.


From: Susan Rapalee

Susan Rapalee here (writing to you from my work address) responding
about air travel with a djembe.

 Actually, I have only flown with my djembe about five times so far and
all of those were domestic flights (ie, lower altitude). As Beverly
described, I use a round piece of quarter-inch plexiglass to protect the
head (Masonite might also be a good material to use). The edges should
be filed on both sides so there's no chance of denting or cutting the
skin if it should slip, and it should be about an inch or so bigger in
diameter that the drum head. I tie it in place using the verticals to
anchor the cord. Between the plexiglass and the skin is my drum
cap--just a piece of slightly padded fabric with elastic around the
edge. I usually pack my drum with the plexi cover whenever I take it out
of the house, as loading a bunch of drums and other equipment into the
back of a van, or having your instruments handled by well-meaning but
uncareful helpers, has its own hazards.

For plane travel I bought a used case from a friend. I don't know the
manufacturer or the purchase price, but I can describe it. It's a big
tube made out of a flexible but very durable black nubbly plastic with
lots of rivets at the seam.  I have seen rigid, molded hard cases for
drums (LP makes one)  but this is more like a big blubbery whale when
it's packed. It has a tubular cap, the sides of which extend down about
4 or 5 inches. There's a plastic handle riveted to the top of the cap
and one riveted to the side of the case, which sits on a wooden platform
with industrial-strength wheels on the bottom. There's heavy-duty
strapping to keep it closed (but I added more as a precaution). There is
alot of extra room inside around the djembe for padding and I put my
cymbal stand in there too. It's too huge to think of asking to carry it
on the plane so it has to be checked, and I have watched in horror from
the plane as a baggage handler tossed it onto the baggage vehicle, and
then it bounced off onto the pavement. But, my drum has been fine so
far. I don't tune the drum down, though I feel I am probably taking a
chance by not doing it.


Volume 9i - How to Travel on Airplanes with Djembe

Hi Happy and all,

Regarding the above several articles in the FAQ, I would caution travelers
against trusting ANY of them to protect a Djembe on a plane.  Fragile
stickers are disregarded completely, and ALL luggage light enough to be
thrown is thrown several times as it moves through the system.  On larger
planes, stacks of luggage can be over ten feet tall and twenty feet wide.
Your drum can land on the bottom of such a stack as easily as the top, and
this means the potential of hundred of pounds of pressure applied to it.
Soft-shell cases and foam...even those with masonite head protection, are
useless against these dangers.

This info is straight from the man in charge of DFW's baggage handling
department, by the way.

There is only one way to properly protect any musical instrument on a
plane...a flight case.  Hence the name. <g> These are made by Anvil, SKB,
and other companies.  They are rigid, metal reinforced, and foam lined, and
can withstand over a thousand pounds of pressure without damage.

Will it be expensive?  You bet.  A flight case for a Djembe can run you as
much as the most expensive drums, up to $1000.  However, flight cases are
often available used from companies in the display and convention industry.
Mine cost me less than $100, it's a top quality Anvil case with 4" casters,
and it fits my drum perfectly.

You will never get a settlement from an airline on a musical instrument.
They simply do not pay those claims.  If you do not wish to see your
instrument damaged, then the only way to get near 100% protection is to use a flight case.   Other methods may get you by, and you may fly several times without any damage at all, but the odds will eventually catch up with you.

Think of flight cases the same way you think of condoms.  You might avoid
disaster for a while, but once is all it takes to make you very very

Additionally, these cases are lifesavers should you find yourself in a
roadshow at some point.  Roadies can be harder on your gear than airlines
when they're wasted, tired, and more interested in hooking up with a little
trim for the night than packing up your gear safely.  There's a reason you
see stacks of flight cases next to every concert stage...people who travel
with their gear regularly, know that it's the only way to keep it in one

Bruce A. Richardson
Purple Iguana Productions

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