Koma Drum is a partnership between exceptionally talented carver Mohamed Kaleb Sylla, 25-year-veteran drum maker Tom Kondas, and some of the most talented artists in West Africa. They are experienced carvers and builders who are dedicated to both advancing the art of drum making, and improving the conditions of African artists. Over the years their work and their innovations have set a new standard for djembe quality, and with their new venture - Koma Drum - they look forward to taking the art of the djembe to the next level.
Our mission is to be part of the solution, and to lead others to join us in that mission. Historically, the djembe business between West Africa and western countries has been based on unfair wages and conditions for African artists, but we have always rejected this model of business. Since 2003 we’ve offered the highest wages and best conditions available, while encouraging others to do the same. Our objective is to build sustainability, which we achieve through value-adding – i.e., increasing the value of our products by maintaining the highest level of quality. By continuously innovating and improving the carving and finishing processes, we are able to provide superior quality instruments and other products, and at prices which allow us to maintain the highest wages and best working conditions in Africa.
MOHAMED KALEB SYLLA
In 2008 I was riding in a taxi through the streets of Conakry, Guinea. As we passed an area with countless African masks and statues on display, a lone djembe caught my eye. I asked the driver to stop the car. and once up close to the drum I was amazed at the quality of workmanship and level of detail. There was inspiration in the design, and the craftsmanship was unmatched by anything I had seen. At that moment I decided I was going to find the carver who had carved the djembe. It took me two years and much effort to finally track him down, but when he first came to our workshop in Conakry, he stunned everyone with a level of craftsmanship that we had not imagined possible. We have worked closely together ever since, and over the past several years Mohamed has become internationally recognized as the most talented and sought-after carver in the drum business. His innovative style and the creativity of his designs have inspired carvers worldwide. He is indeed a rare talent - a djembe carver, decorative carver, sketch artist, and even architect, whose outstanding skill and attention to fine detail have produced some of the most revered and most copied work in the world.
Mohamed began his path in sculpture and design while still in high school in Conakry, as an apprentice of Mamadi Magassouba. After high school he moved to nearby Dubreka to study Fine Arts at the Higher Institute of Arts in Guinea. Since graduation Mohamed has dedicated himself to the art of djembe, producing the iconic pieces that he has become known for, and we look forward to seeing the development of his art over the years to come.
- Written by Tom Kondas
Tom first began building drums in 1995, gaining knowledge and skills by traveling extensively throughout the United States and abroad to work with both African and Western drum makers. Early in his career he received training from Aboubacar Camara, former djembe player and drum maker for the national drum and dance group of Guinea, Ballet Africains; an experience that was important in defining his path. In 2003 Tom first traveled to Guinea, West Africa, and by 2004 he had established his own drum making shop in Conakry. His goal was to make the finest quality instruments possible, so he assembled a team of the top carvers and builders - the same team that he has worked with side-by-side since 2003.
In 2005 Tom joined forces with Magbana/Michael Markus in New York, to form Wula Drum. Through Wula, Tom and his team, including Mohamed Kaleb Sylla, continued to produce some of the highest quality djembes world had seen, until Tom and Mohamed took their next step together, leaving Wula to embark on their new venture, Koma Drum.
Tom’s time in Guinea has allowed him to thoroughly study and experiment with how form, carving, drum building techniques, and skin selection affect the acoustics of a djembe. He also learned the art of djembe carving from Guineas most talented carvers - an experience which has allowed him to further experiment with djembe form and sound. The result has been an ongoing shift from the contemporary bucket, or V-shaped bowls to more of a full (goblet-shape) form similar to the older, traditional style Malinke djembes.
Tom’s knowledge of the djembe and his commitment to fair wages and worker conditions has earned him the respect of the Guinean artists, which in turn has fostered an environment of cooperation and commitment to a common goal. Over the years this collaboration has had a far-reaching impact on both the art and the business of the djembe, and with Koma Drum Tom is dedicated to continuing on this same path.