Each Wula Drum team member is a highly skilled craftsmen who specializes in a specific aspect of the drum making process.
Making drums is a Team Effort! Wontonara! (We are all Together!)
Sustainability in Guinea, West Africa
The Big Transition
Wula Drum is the only drum company, ever, in the history of drum making in Guinea to give full time contracted salaries.
Although this is a huge transition and an ambitious undertaking, we see it as the best route to create true sustainability for the Team. Not only does Wula still continue to pay the highest wages, we also provide a monthly salary, full-time work, paid holidays, medical (limited), legal documented employment, professional and safe working conditions, research and development, and incentive programs - all of which point toward a more stable career and successful route for the entire team and their families.
Starting in January 2021, we completely transitioned our company structure. Wula Drum is the only drum company, ever, in the history of drum making in Guinea, to give full time, year long contracted salaries. Although this is a huge, exciting transition, and an ambitious undertaking, we see it is the best route to create true sustainability for the Team. Not only does Wula still continue to pay the highest wages, we also provide a monthly salary, full-time work, paid holidays, medical (limited), legal documented employment, professional and safe working conditions, research and development, and incentive programs, all which point toward a more stable career and successful route for the entire team and their families.
Drum making is a team effort. A single drum passes through several people’s hands and several stages of production. Each craftsman has a skill in specifically one area, such as, the interior carving, exterior carving, decoration, mounting, and finishing. Commonly, the system each shop uses is to pay the worker for each task they complete, per drum. “Pay Per Drum”. Like that of free lance work, when the work finishes, there is no guarantee for future work. This work is “on again, off again”, and forces people to scramble around to find more work, or wait for new work, and adjust the best they can.
In our eyes, this is a big difference compared to that of a full time, salaried, contracted position structure. We found that the “pay per drum” system of work fails create sustainable income for its employees. It becomes “feast or famine” - too much work, then dropping off to nothing. This extremely limits the work, the worker, and the final outcome of the instrument. It hinders the ability of the employee (and the company) to grow into its full potential and create longevity...sustainability.
A “Pay Per Drum” system can often be short lived as this system may not provide consistency enough to help support families, plan futures, get through slow season, and navigate through unexpected challenges of life.
Through a series of long discussions, meetings, and evaluations, with the entire team, we created yearly contracts for each person, unifying all 18 people.
The results so far have been Amazing! We have found that monthly salaries helps create much more stability for each person, most who have been with us for 5-8-10-12+ years. We have seen more marriages, families started, purchases of houses, and even some purchasing of land for future investments and developments.
This, which in turn has unified the work, we see our drums improving as well. Better, more consistent work, improved quality, improved tempo and overall vision of the work.
Please note, this is all a large undertaking! A challenge for sure. Not an easy endevour, , however, we are committed, and trying our best to keep this many people going, full time. This is the best path we see for true change and for each to obtain a better future and true sustainability.
This is real teamwork, and it shows. Wontanara! We are all Together.
So, how can you help? Simple, enjoy our wonderful instruments. Help promote drumming and get your friends and family involved. Help spread the benefits of music in your daily life. Music is good for the soul, and there for everyone to enjoy, at anytime, and every time.
During the height of Covid, we received assistance funding that allowed us to keep our entire team working. While all our programming in the West completely stopped, the team in Guinea were hard at work. Despite the challenges faced by all drum shops in Guinea, we were lucky enough to be in full production. In fact, during 2020-1, the amount of capital invested to support the company and our workers, in Guinea was the largest it has ever been, surpassing all previous years to date.
Wula Drum has been a mission-based company since its inception, with a dual objective of crafting superior quality instruments and establishing sustainable incomes by offering the highest wages possible.
Director of Production
Yamoussa Karamoko Sylla, grew up in Conakry, Guinea, and began Djembe work at 17 years of age as means to help pay for his education. After graduating with a Computer Technology degree, he realized preferred the work and culture enrichment of the Djembe. Naturally adept in the techniques of making the Djembe, he soon developed the reputation as a serious craftsman, and worked with many of the drum makers throughout Conakry.
Given the nickname ‘Yambig’ – which means ‘Never Die,’ Yamoussa quickly progressed. He achieved his title by assembling and packing an entire container full of 350 Djembes, all by himself, in only 6 weeks!
After mounting drums for Wula Drum, he transitioned to the position of Production Manager. He currently leads the team, as the chief operator, on the Guinea side of the company.
M’Bemba Bangoura is a true ambassador of the culture of Guinea, and one of the main exponents of the Djembe drum. He has traveled the world as a performer and teacher, and is revered for his high level of mastery. As a native of Guinea, West Africa, M’Bemba began playing the djembe at the young age of seven. He played in the Junior Ballet, G’basicollo, and then moved up to the City Ballet, Conakry I. By the age of twenty-one, he was invited to join Ballet Djoliba, the national company of Guinea. He spent more than 12 years in the ballet, as lead soloist, touring throughout Guinea, Africa, Europe and Asia. He lead the next generation of master drummers, who were young, but still who grew up in Sekou Toure time (President/Dictator who led the independence of Guinea in 1959). Mr. Bangoura has a special place in djembe history because he maintains deep knowledge of his previous generation’s history, folklore, and ballet programs; while also staying current with development of the contemporary djembe scene. He has 4 personal recordings, has played with numerous artists, and is also a disciplined dancer, choreographer and teacher.
M'Bemba moved to New York in 1992 where he made a massive impact as a teacher and performer of the music of Guinea.
Creatively, he is the Artistic Director, lead performer and facilitator for Wula Drum. He is progressing the educational and performance components of the company. He is also the chief advisor, and involved with helping to make every major decision, as the liaison between all employees involved.
Michael Markus has spent over 20 years performing, teaching and studying West African styles of drumming. After receiving his BFA in percussion from Ithaca College, he fell in love with Djembe and moved to New York City in 1993. Soon afterwards he found his primary teacher, Master Drummer M’Bemba Bangoura, and began to apprentice in Guinea, West Africa.
Michael is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of cultural arts and socioeconomic development in Guinea.
CARVING: transforming the “rough shell”, into a finished, balanced, symmetrical, level djembe form.
Each carver specializes in either the interior, or the exterior area. They are responsible for transforming the “rough shell”, into a finished, balanced, symmetrical, level djembe form.
After basic carving is done, the drum also goes through the ‘rectification’ where additional wood is carefully lifted out to ensure that it will produce an excellent slap tone and bass resonance.
DECORATION: hand carving the decorative designs onto the exterior of the djembe shell.
These talented artists hand carve all the decorative designs onto the exterior of the djembe shell. In order to stay within the aspects of each model, we all work together to produce general ideas, motifs, and guidelines.
Within this framework, each artist also creates and expresses their art and vision for each drum. They have creative license and create patterns they envision, and can also do custom work. The decorators at Wula are truly gifted individuals, each unique to their own style.
These dedicated guys take care of the entire process for assembly of the skin onto the drum. This includes bending, wrapping and the rings, shaving and mounting the skin, tightening in a series of pulling and the final tuning. Labor intensive work!