A talk with Eric Dixon, Ashiko Drum Builder

How'd you get started building African drums?

With an interest in drumming years ago and from selling import drums at our store, Green Earth Emporium.

What was your interest in drums?

I mostly liked to bang on things.

Since you were how old?

Ah, 30.

Who would play a drum like this, or do people just have them for show?

People play 'em, they get involved in drum circles, they learn rhythms, play with a friend. It's New Agers to people just wanting to experience something different.

How'd you learn to make the drums?

I'm self-taught—I've picked it up by examining drums and seeing how somebody else did it.

How do you make them sound so resonant?

It's proper tuning. A lot of people don't realize drums have to be tuned. The tightness of the skin is very important, and the rim of the wood has to be really smooth so the skin can slide over it easily as you tighten with the ropes on the sides.

What are the ropes made of?

They are just climbing rope.

You make ashikos from poplar. Do you use other woods?

I just finished one made out of oak and cherry. You've got to use relatively hard woods—soft woods like pine don't carry a tune as well. These ashikos are actually made with recycled pallet wood.

But they're still hard wood?

Yes. You'd be surprised what they make pallets out of, you'd be surprised what you find.

The goat skin for the top, where do you get that?

It's from Africa; I buy it from an African importer

So no local goats?

In Africa, they eat the goats and they use every part of the goat for something. They've been doing that for thousands of years, it's not like they're killing goats just to send skins to American drum builders.