The talking drum is an hourglass-shaped drum from West Africa, whose pitch can be regulated to mimic the tone and prosody of human speech. It has two drumheads connected by leather tension cords, which allow the player to modulate the pitch of the drum by squeezing the cords between their arm and body. A skilled player is able to play whole phrases. Most talking drums sound like a human humming depending on the way you play. Similar hourglass-shaped drums are found in Asia, but they are not used to mimic speech, although the idakka is used to mimic vocal music.
The origin of the talking drum 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. It is also used during festivals and served as a signal to herald the arrival of an important personality. The talking drum is arguably one of the oldest traditional instruments in Africa.
The Yoruba people of south western Nigeria and Benin and the Dagomba of northern Ghana have developed a highly sophisticated genre of griot music centering on the talking drum.
Many variants of the talking drums evolved, with most of them having the same construction mentioned above. Soon, many non-hourglass shapes showed up and were given special names, such as the Dunan, Sangban, Kenkeni, Fontomfrom and Ngoma drums. Interestingly, this construction is limited to within the contemporary borders of West Africa, with exceptions to this rule being northern Cameroon and western Chad; areas which have shared populations belonging to groups predominant in their bordering West African countries, such as the Kanuri, Djerma, Fulani and Hausa.
African Musicians from the old school to the new school has found so much love in this instrument. The talking drum has a way of making their sounds more African. The drum is mostly beaten by men, but of recent women has started playing it as well.
Types of Talking Drum
There are different types of talking drums. The only way they can be differentiated is by size. They include the Iya-Ilu (Mother of Drums), gangan, and omele.
SINCE inception, the talking drum is played uniquely by the Yoruba people, although many other African tribes play talking drums, majority sometimes do not go beyond the peripheral to display the exact meaning but only showcase basic rhythms of drum conversations.
However, given the aphorism that a thousand mile begins with a step, the drum music culture has gradually carved a niche for the Yoruba race given the deep and enviable messages it relays while being played. Yoruba Drum Festival, YDF, is a leadership initiative, cultural diplomacy and tourism development which are strategically created to serve as a refreshing introduction of Yoruba culture and language to a global audience. Given to the importance of drum and drumming in Yorubas social cultural life, The Yoruba Drum Festival, YDF was developed by Ayodele Ganiu in December 2009 at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, ICD, and Berlin in Germany to help promote the rich cultural legacy of drum. As an ICD Academy alumnus, Ganiu worked in consultation with Katharine Muller who is the former Managing Director of Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, ICD, Mark Donfried, Aare Lekan Amida the President of Egbe Omo Oduduwa Berlin e.V and Mr Ayodele L. Ayodeji, the former Minister, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Germany.
VDF is also a project of Intro Afrika, an art firm co-founded by Ganiu to promote intercultural relations by showcasing African cultures to global audiences through music and other artistic productions. The major goals of YDF are to reconnect the Yoruba in Africa and in the Diaspora to their roots, a necessity to expose aspects of Yoruba culture to a global audience and to encourage interest in and preserve the Yoruba language. In its process of contributing to tourism development in Yoruba land, YDF is also affiliated with reputable international organisations which include; Egbe Omo Oduduwa Berlin e.V, African Languages Technology Initiative (ALT-I), Egbe Omo Oduduwa, Kenya and Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, ICD. At the recent Lagos public awareness show at Yoruba Tennis Club, at Onikan, YDF made the audience to know that there is a conceptual engagement between the mediating role of Yoruba performers and the thematic and structural features of their performances. Also, Yoruba entertainment performances, he explained, are defined by the constant interplay of the elements of play and spirituality as controlled by the agency of the performer. At the show, the drummers demonstrated how drumming in Yoruba land goes beyond mere entertainment.
One out of many in the business is the renowned queen of talking drum in Africa, Coming from a family with deep traditional, religious and cultural backgrounds, Ara had the opportunity of witnessing tradition festivals, cultural events such as; OGUN FESTIVAL, ILEYA FESTIVAL and many others. It was during one of such festivals she began to pick up interest in the Talking Drum and had the rare opportunity due to her royal ancestry of meeting the best talking drummer in the land and soon she fell completely in love.
So when it was time to create an identity for Ara, many musical instruments were tried on but after coming in contact with the Talking drum again, she quickly relived her childhood and in no time she settled for it.
Ara has been showcasing the love she got for talking drum, and this said instrument has really made her what she is today and has equally made her tour the world with her music.
When next you travel for a festival or occasion in South-West, Nigeria, look out for the talking drum!