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The language of drums in Yoruba land

Let's take a look at the variety of drums used in Yoruba cultural festivals, carnivals and special occasions.

Yoruba language and culture is very widespread across Africa, and even beyond. Outside Nigeria, you can find large Yoruba communities in Togo and Benin Republic. Smaller communities can be found in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other African countries. In diasporan countries such as Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Trinidad, Yoruba drum cultures are practiced, especially during Òrìsà worship.

Drums in Yoruba land consist of animal skin strained against wooden frames. Most of the drums are percussive in nature, that is produced a rhythmic pattern that is danceable. Talking drums, which are quite popular, are so named because they imitate human voices while some others are just melody borne.

Here are some of the major drums that are used in Yoruba land.

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1. Omele Ako

The drum is also known as Sakara and it belongs to the bata family of drums. Omele is a shallow drum with a circular body, with goat or cow skin, the smallest in the set of bata drums. Omele Ako is used during weddings, parties and other festivities. Hausa people of northern Nigeria also produce and use this drum.

2. Gan Gan/Dun Dun (talking drum)

The talking drum is the most popular drum in Yoruba land. This hourglass-shaped drum can be traced back to the Old Oyo Empire in South-West, Nigeria. It was introduced as a means of communication during inauguration of the Alaafin of Oyo. It is a very key ingredient of Yoruba folklore. The language of the talking drum depends on what the message or chant is intended to be. Its pitch can be adjusted using the cords and strings around the drum.

It is also the drum used by afrobeat musician, Lagbaja.

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3. Saworoide

Saworoide, or Chaworoide in Cuba, is a type of talking drum or gan gan decorated with brass bells and chimes. Such bells are attached to leather straps for support. Tunde Kelani's 1999 film, Saworoide, was named after a tradition that a person can not be crowned king without the playing of the saworoide.

4. Bata

Bata is a double-headed drum shaped like an hourglass with one cone larger than the other. Used mostly in religious functions, festivals, carnivals and coronations, the Bata conveys messages of hope, divination, praise and war. Bata comes in a set of three drums — Iya ilu bata (loudest), omele abo bata and omele ako. The first two are double headed and each end is played and produces a unique tone. The Iyá ("Mother") is the largest and loudest in the group, playing long, complex patterns with many variations and initiates conversations with the other two drums.

5. Gbedu/Ogido

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The Gbedu or “a big drum'' is a percussive instrument mostly used for spiritual ceremonies like Ogoni ceremonies, the ancient Yoruba secret society. Played either with the palm or drumsticks, Gbedu is a symbol of royalty and is covered in designs and carvings representing birds, animals and godesses. The drum is said to have been brought to Yorubaland by Edo diplomats in the 17th century.

6. Ashiko

Ashiko is a tapered cylindrical shaped drum with its head on the wide end and its narrow end open. It is made of goatskin hide strained against hardwood, played during festivals using the palms.

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