The djembe solo, although often improvised, is sometimes a set part of the song. A young djembefola (player) will watch a more experienced player playing solo parts that accompany the song and will eventually try to mimic the solo. Once he/she has mastered the traditional solo, they are allowed to experiment and add their own style or flair.
Here are a couple of djembe solo videos to inspire you:
This video starts with singing and the djembe only kicks in at about 1 minute, but it is well worth the wait, as it showcases one of the greats, Mamady Keita.
Notice at 6:38 Mamady starts what is called the chauffe (French for 'hot'). The chauffe is where the playing intensifies and the lead soloist plays a rapid sequence that signals to all the other musicians to play the call, or ending.
Madou, below, is mouthing some of the notes of the solo using a phonetic language. This makes teaching a rhythm or solo possible without using written notation as each of the notes is reprensented by a word, for example 'Gu' or 'Du' for bass notes, 'Goh' or 'Doh' for tones, and 'Ga' or 'Da' for slaps.
Madou Djembe's CD is one of the best albums on djembe that I have.
Not a strictly tradtional djembe ensemble, but Youssou N'Dour uses the djembe solo brilliantly here in his style of African pop. The solo starts at about 2:15.
Here are a couple of alternatives to the 3 basic notes of the djembe (bass, tone and slap) used in a solo. Kassoum Sanogo is shown here incorporating finger rolls. He also gets a different sound by playing with the finger on the very edge of the drum.
Adama Drame, below, is a clear master of the djembe solo. His teachings have inspired a very good book by Serge Blanc called 'African Percussion' - for the more serious djembe student, and one of the few books that uses standard music notation.
An all-women djembe troupe in perfect form, with some powerful solos to dispell the myth that 'it's a guy thing'.
Abdoulaye Diakite, below, showing what many good djembe players seem to forget about the djembe solo, that it is as much about the spaces between the notes as it is about the notes themselves. A djembe solo is meant to be a 'conversation', with dynamics in terms of speed, volume and intensity.
Far too many technically good players still think the solo is a 100m sprint, yelling all the way to the finish line.
Soungalo Coulibaly, rest his soul, of whom Mamady Keita once said: "[his] hand is so clean, his sound is so pure, that I wondered if I'd ever be able to play like him."