talking drum

The Talking drum is an instrument from the percussion family that originates from West Africa. This hourglass-shaped drum has two drumheads connected by leather tension cords, which allows the player to change the pitch of the drum by squeezing the cords between their arm and body. They are referred to as talking drums because they are able to be tuned to mimic the sound of human speech in terms of tone, accents, and emotions. Messages sent by talking drums have included more words to communicate the message that would be required by a written message but the message could be sent much quicker.

Talking drums come in various sizes, and is also known by several names according to the various West African languages.  In the Akan language, it is known as Dondo, or Odondo, in the Bambara, Bozo or Dyula languages, it is known as Tamanin; in Dagbani, or Moore it is known as Lunna or Donno, in Hausa it is known as Kalangu or Dan Kar’bi and known as Dundun or Gangan in Yoruba.

talking drum

Talking drums have been used by various African cultures to transmit messages over long distances since antiquity but it wasn’t until the Europeans arrived in the 1700’s that this became known to the outside world. The talking drum can be heard in the 1959 movie “The Nun’s Story” starring Audrey Hepburn. Bill Kreutzmann, a drummer for the Grateful Dead occasionally played a talking drum at the bands’ live shows during the “drums” segment of their shows in the second set. The talking drum features prominently in the scope of the 2018 film, Black Panther.

In a musical group, especially a Yoruba musical group, the talking drum is usually handled by an experienced drummer as he/she dictates the tempo and direction of the general beat. He/ she also has the obligation to remind the singer of certain things and in many cases, it communicates with the dancers as well.

In the ancient Yoruba communities, talking drums(gangan) expertise(ayan) are found in some families going by their heritage. Some Yoruba names today still suggest their roots are from a drumming family, names such as Ayangalu, Ayandiran, Ayandeji, etc.

Did you miss this?