The Yoruba Talking Drum

The talking drum

By Folorunso Fatai Adisa

Every culture has its emblems and paraphernalia that signal the presence of a culture and, also, appeal to both the eyes and mind aesthetically. One of the most impressive insignia of arts and culture from Yorubaland is the talking drum.

Structurally, It is an hourglass-shaped wood with an inner cavity, covered on both ends by animal skin- especially goat or cow-, and beaten by a curved stick called “gongo.” The provision of chords- made out of dry goatskin- gives room for the modulation and creative control of sounds from the drum- all of which will eventually gift listeners with melodious sounds that can serve as both music and message to the listeners. Little wonder a saying goes, “oku ewure ton foun bi eniyan” (a dead goat talking like a human being). That statement simply eulogises Ìlù gángan (Talking Drum) ability to communicate meaningful sounds— communication.

The drum performs the double functions of entertainment and communication. Those who are versed in the arts of drums can listen and understand what the drum/drummer is saying.

When one reads Cyprian Ekwensi’s “The Drummer Boy”, one can’t but get attracted to the person of Akin as a result of his brilliance at beating his drum. However, the fictional Akin’s brilliance at drumming is like a stone to a hill in comparison to some of the great drummers we know such as Adewole Onilu Ola, Aderoju and so on. Adewole understood the Apala drum language more than any man of his era and he knew all the nuances of the talking drum. His adeptness and unparalleled brilliance cannot be contested.

In Saworoide, the communicative prowess of the talking drum takes the lead role. Even the spiritual situation of the drum in Saworoide can also be subsumed under communication. It is as a result of the effective and efficient communication that took place between the Saworoide and the Ade ide that activated the potency of the charm that is present in the Adeide which leads to the mysterious death of the wearer of the Adeide (who had no incision): communication.

Overall, the talking drum represents one of the many ways the Yoruba people have exemplified ingenuity. It represents a brilliant concatenation of communication and entertainment. If the drum is beaten, by a skilful drummer, to eulogise you, I am confident that you would empty your pocket except you are not financially capable to do so. Ìlù gángan is, indeed, the Idan gángan

Adisa is a public affairs analyst