Pavel Jasanský lives in an isolated house surrounded by forests and a small lake. He says the place captured his heart when he saw it in the moonlight as a teenager and promised himself that one day he would build a house there. At the age of thirty, he realized this dream by creating a perfect place for his lifelong passion.
“I was fifteen or sixteen when I repaired my first drum. I took it apart and studied how it was made. When I fixed it, I decided to make my own drum, absorbing all the information I could get about the art of drum making. I didn’t have the money to buy a drum and I also really wanted to make it myself. I gradually mastered the craft, honing my skills with each subsequent drum made, first for friends, then for others, eventually reaching a point where I was earning enough to support myself.
Convinced of the power of music to heal the soul, Pavel was particularly fascinated by the drums of ancient tribes – West African djembes and powwow drums with which the drummer seeks to connect with those who surround it and with nature.
“One of the people who taught me the most about drums was my friend Sapazi who is in Indian culture. He taught me how to make shaman drums which you play with sticks. You see them everywhere in the world. In Arab countries, they are played with the fingers. These require finer leather.”
Making a West African djembe is a craft charged with spiritual significance. Africans say that the drum contains three spirits – the spirit of the tree from which it was made, the spirit of the animal whose skin is being played on, and the spirit of the carver. When brought together in harmony, the spirits make beautiful and powerful music.
Pavel must talk extensively with each customer to give them a perfect bespoke instrument to meet their needs.
“I need to know exactly what they are looking for. There are so many possibilities depending on the type of leather used, its thickness, the shape of the base… all of this determines the sound of the drum. I need to know if they want to play indoors or outdoors, if they want high notes or prefer low sounds. I can influence all of that and create exactly what they want.
The West African djembe is used by tribes during weddings, baptisms, funerals, circumcisions and excisions. They also play songs during ploughing, sowing and harvesting, during courtship rituals and even to settle disputes between the men of a village. Pavel takes one from his desk.
“The base is cup-shaped and made from a single piece of wood that I get from West Africa. It is currently one of the most popular instruments in the world. Here we have bass drums, bass drums were used in this part of the world in the Middle Ages. But here it is a collection of African Dundun, Sangban and Kenkeni bass drums, which are used by African bands.
Pavel says that one of the main skills he had to learn was processing and working with leather.
“There are many types of leather and you need to look for the properties you need for a given type of drum: flexibility, strength and tenacity. For example, if you are making a drum that will be played directly with the fingers, you need thinner leather. You usually use goatskin for this and there is a big difference between Czech goats and African goats in this regard. I use a lot of calfskin and deer rawhide and usually do my own tanning unless it’s a larger order, in which case I do.
Pavel’s workshop is full of a huge assortment of different drums for different purposes and from different cultures. When people are interested, he is even ready to help them make their own drum in his workshop.
“Drums alone wouldn’t be enough to keep me in business and I love playing and experimenting with musical instruments, so I’m willing to create unusual pieces for people – like this drum with another African musical instrument attached to it. – the Kalimba It has a quiet sound and is good for music therapy.
While most of his time is spent making custom pieces, Pavel is occasionally asked to repair a rare old drum. He says it’s a huge treat.
“I repaired special pieces, for example two drums over half a century old, and I was amazed by the quality of the leather treatment. I was also asked to repair Japanese Taiko drums for the Dragoon Boat festival. They are smaller barrel-shaped drums with spikes and richly decorated with red and gold ornaments.
Pavel says the secret to making great drums is understanding the culture and traditions they are part of.
“This is a powwow drum made from a wide base and covered with raw deer hide. The powwow drum can be played by eight or more men who form a circle around it and sing in rhythm This one is 70 centimeters tall, but I’ve made others that were a meter tall. It’s important for me to understand the rituals the drums are used for, how the instrument is supposed to sound and hear the songs that go along with the beat. I find it all extremely interesting.
Pavel has two drums that he made himself and won’t lend to anyone. He says there’s no better way to relax than drumming. With a couple of friends who share his interest in Indian culture, he founded the group Detvan, with which they regularly perform at multi-genre festivals.