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Excellence in style, the uniqueness of Yoruba drums

By  JAPHET aLAKAM

In recent time, global and local brands that want to resonate with the people, have suddenly realized the need to connect with the people through drumming. For instance, in announcing the credential campaign which was used to christen Goldberg from the stable of Nigerian Breweries, recently, the promoters of the brand saw drum as a symbol of unity and leveraged on it in all their campaigns. Aside the fact that it played a prominent role at various places where the event held, its major campaign, which was used in print and billboard shows a Nollywood Artist, Odunlade Adekola proudly holding Gangan, the talking drum as a message career.

A cursory look at drumming among the people of Yoruba, South West Nigeria shows that beyond its entertainment function, it also serves as a medium through which the people convey important messages.

• Drummers celebrating the importance of drums

Before modern civilization infiltrated the culture of many tribes and ethnic communities, the Yoruba people of South West Nigeria, had fashioned out the way to entertain themselves. During traditional festivals, chieftaincy coronation, naming ceremonies, wedding and all sort of events, the Yorubas use their drum for entertainment and eulogy.

As a vital part of the cultural heritage of the people, generally, whenever there is a big occasion: weddings, funerals and others, there must be drummers around.   In big cities like Ibadan, there are always drummers plying their trade on weekends even without having any specific invitation to big occasions. These drummers could stop by and many celebrants allow such drummers – with restrictions on their performances – to join the celebration so that they can make some money. This way, the tradition of passing the art of drumming which often appears effortless, but which involves very difficult process and long apprenticeship, to live on.

In an interview with Vanguard, a professor of Chorography and foremost Dramatist, Rasaki Ojo-Bakarei, described Druming as essential part of Yoruba culture that is entrenched in all social activities. Ojo-Bakare, who is currently the Dean of School of Humanities at the Federal University of Oye Ekiti, said drumming is like tonic and energetic to social activities among the Yorubas.

“Yoruba is an interesting place to be and visit, not only because of the important place they occupies in Nigeria but because of their deep culture. There is so much to be proud of with respect to arts and culture. Drumming especially is a vital part of the cultural heritage of the Yoruba people. Drums are used in special occasions, festivals, carnivals, ceremonies. They even add special effects and style to some bits of the people’s culture,” he said.

The Yorubas parade different drums for various activities such as; Gangan, Bata, Gbedu, Saworoide and so on. They include, Gangan: Gangan which is commonly refereed to as Talking Drum holds a special place in the tradition of the Yoruba people, and its use in Yoruba folklore cannot be overemphasized. Its origin can be traced to the Old Oyo Empire in South-West, Nigeria. It was introduced as a means of communication during inauguration of the Alaafin of Oyo. They are used to imitate different tone and chant patterns of the Yoruba language. Its hourglass shape makes it possible for it to be held under the arm. They are frequently used in modern churches, festivals, wedding ceremonies and carnivals.

Bata: Bata is a double-headed drum shaped like an hourglass with one cone larger than the other. It’s used majorly in religious functions, festivals, carnivals and coronations. It’s also used to convey messages of hope, divination, praise and war.

A set of batá consists of three drums of different sizes. The drums are similar in shape to an hourglass and each drum has two different sized heads and are played sitting down with the drum placed horizontally on the knees. This allows the drummer to play with both hands.

It is of many types like Iyá (“Mother”) is the largest drum and leads the group. The Itótele, the middle-sized drum and the Okónkolo, the smallest of the three playing short.

The bata drums actually are becoming very, very popular all over the world today, even here in the U.S., but are already very popular in Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela.  Others asre, Omele ako: fondly called ‘Omele’, known as the “Sakara”drum. It is a shallow drum with a circular body made with baked clay. They are used during wedding ceremonies, traditional coronations and festivals.

Gbedu: Gbedu literally means “a big drum’’ a percussion instrument traditionally used on state occasions or during ceremonies of Ogoni, the ancient Yoruba secret society.

Ashiko: is a tapered cylindrical shaped drum with its head on the wide end and its narrow end open.  They are mostly used in festivals and community celebrations.

Saworoide: Saworoide also known as “Saworo”is a type of talking drum decorated with brass bells and chimes. Such bells are attached to leather straps for support. They are called “Chaworoide”and”Chaworo”in Cuba.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.