The skin your hand touches makes a tremendous difference in sound. Know what you are looking at and know the differences!
Mali skins can be found "rough skived" (the hair is scraped off) or as hair on. I have mine all airshipped so they are all cut into spine centered circles to save weight. Mali skins are tough, even thickness skins. They produce a rich and balanced sound profile. With hair, they tend to be brown, brown and white, black and white and often spotted or "pinto".
Guinea skins can be found "rough skived" (the hair is scraped off) or as hair on. As pictured they often have a dark dorsal spine line, and can have fairly long hair. Occaisionally they can be black, brown, and white speckled. They have a sharp sound, emphasizing the slap, and extremely tough. Skins can come from very small to large in size.
Ivory Coast skins are can be found "rough skived" (the hair is scraped off) or as hair on. Hair off you often see these as rectangles, with broad swipes where the hair is skived with a large knife. I have gotten these light, and almost as heavy as calf. These are a little oilier than other skins, and so now quite as tough. They produce a balnced sound but a little muted for my taste.
Pakistan or East Indian Hides
These really are not suitable for djembes over about ten inches in diameter. I have put thicker ones on a small djembe in a pinch. Because they are chemically processed and the hair folicle gets removed, leaving an open texture. They just don't have the toughness and sound properties for a djembe. These are mainly used for "finger drums", like doumbeks. Heavy weight goat skins are often used for hoop drums, bodhrans, and frame drums.
Be sure and inspect these for tiny holes, weak spots, and even thickness. They tend to be mass produced and only a reliable supplier can get you the best ones. Some come bleached pure white, but I get the natural colored ones.
The quality of skins available varies widely. Choose what you think fits your style and find a reliable supplier that guarantees your satisfaction. Suppliers that specialize in African imports will likely get you a good skin. Beware of Easy Indian suppliers selling an "African" or "Djembe" skin, they think they are all the same! There are many other types of skin that work on drums: Elk, Moose, Antelope, Bison, Horse and Calf. These can be difficult to work with and hard on your hands to play. Domestic Goats and Deer might be available, but they are way too soft and stretchy... make a pair of gloves out of them!
People sometimes ask me, "Are these animals raised humanely using cruelty free methods?"
Both the goat skins from Pakistan and Africa come from cultures for which goats are the main source of meat and milk. As such they are treated as valuable assets for a family, and are generally freely grazed. They aren't killed for their skin, generally for meat and ceremonial use...nearly every cultural event requires a goat be killed and eaten to verify the importance of the event. In my book this is humane..they are neither kept confined, made to suffer, or disrespected ...they are valuable parts of an agrarian culture and all parts are used.