African percussion samples have long been a popular resource for desktop musicians, but often these sub-Saharan sound bites are drawn from field recordings that make them difficult to incorporate into modern studio productions. Not anymore. With the release of Atsiã: West African Dancing Drums ($229.95), Sonic Implants has brought the authentic sound of Africa into the studio.
The single-disc library centers on the traditional percussion of the African Ewe tribe, which comes from a region that includes parts of Ghana, Togo, and Benin. The collection also includes a number of instruments from elsewhere in West Africa and even from Brazil.
All of the instruments come from the private collection of Joe Galeota who teaches percussion at Berklee College of Music. The samples recorded at Blue Jay Studios are uniformly clean and well edited with only a small amount of unobtrusive natural reverb.
Atsiã's individual instrument samples are divided into six sections: Bass Drums, Floor Drums, Frame Drums, Talking Drums, Other Drums, and Bells/Shakers/Snaps. A separate folder called African Dance Grooves includes three sets of multi-instrument loops.
Shake It Out
Most of the instruments in the Atsiã library are drums of one sort or another, but you'll also find a nice assortment of nondrum sounds in the Bells/Shakers/Snaps folder. The Brazilian afoxe (pronounced ah-foo-shay) is a handheld cylindrical device covered in corrugated metal and surrounded by small metal beads. It's a popular shaker for a number of musical styles, and it's offered here with several single-layer samples. The straw-and-woven-reed caxixi (pronounced kah-shee-shee) also from Brazil and the gourd-and-bead axatse (pronounced ah-zhat-say) from Ghana are considerably more interesting, however, because their samples are offered in up to four layers, allowing for a more nuanced performance.
Several types of bells are also included in the collection. I especially like the gankogui (pronounced gon-co-gwee) bells from the Ewe tribe. These bells are at the center of much of the Ewe's musical tradition, and they offer a range of expression from clangorous and metallic to unusual muted effects. It's all nicely captured in a collection of two- to four-layer multisamples. I also like the hollow, marimbalike sound of the four-layer iron castanet and the simple open and muted metallic sound of the toke bell.
The Atsiã library is filled with dozens of drum samples — far too many to cover in detail. The low end is represented with several deep-sounding bass drums, including the Brazilian macana surdo with four-layer open sounds, two-layer mutes, and rim shots. The tamelen from Ghana (one of two frame drums) also offers some deep, full-sounding notes.
Floor drums are well represented with a variety of sounds and playing techniques. One notable example from the Ewe tribe is the five-foot-tall atsimevu (pronounced ah-chee-may-voo) with its various hand and stick hits, slaps, mutes, side-sticks, and other techniques rendered beautifully in four Velocity layers.
Another standout is the West African djembe, the goblet-shaped, single-head hand drum that exists in various forms throughout Africa and the Middle East. The Atsiã multisample offers a solid, well-focused low sound and a powerful, bright upper sound. With its four Velocity layers, it can be quite expressive.
Of the three talking drums, the most interesting is the dundun from Ghana. Its range of open and muted hits and glissando tones could be just the thing to add a little variety to your next drum track. The presence of a piccolo snare drum patch seems a bit incongruous in this collection, but it's a welcome addition that mixes effectively with some of the other instruments.
My favorite part of the Atsiã library is the African Dance Grooves folder with its three collections of multi-instrument loops. The drums appear on the white keys, while the bells and shakers are triggered from the black keys. The first collection (in 4/4 time at 120 bpm) is the only group that lets you jump from groove to groove with keyswitching (not available in SoundFonts) — a very cool feature. The other groups offer various unidentified tempos in 6/8 and 4/4 meters. Several of the grooves in the second group sound too quiet compared with the others. That's unfortunate, but it's not a major problem.
The third group offers some great drum loops without bells and shakers. Many of the grooves lope along in a pulsing, throbbing way. The piccolo snare fills inject a nice splash of color. Overall, if you're looking to add a bit of tribal rhythm and variety to your next project, Atsiã: West African Dancing Drums is well worth considering.