African drums hold a special place in the history of the continent.
In Western Culture, the idea of drumming is nearly always associated with entertainment or just to add to the musical quality of a song.
In Africa, drums hold a deeper symbolic and historical meaning.
Drums are almost always an accompaniment for any manner of ceremony – births, deaths, marriages – together with a ritual dance.
The vicious sound of many drums pounding together is also a necessary instalment to stir up emotions in a battle or war to inspire excitement and passion.
In much of Africa, certain drums symbolize and protect royalty and are often housed in sacred dwellings.
In fact you could say the drum was actually the first form of telephone.
Nigeria is an interesting country to be and to visit.
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 of Southwestern Nigeria.
Drums are used in special occasions, festivals, carnivals, ceremonies. They even add special effects and style to some bits of Yoruba culture.
Drums are differentiated by the sound they make, how they are made, history, and appearance.
For Yoruba people, ceremonies dictate the kind of drums to use.
Against this background, the Ogun State Government organised a three-day African Drums Festival to show that
the influence of the Yoruba talking drum is presently spreading through Africa and its Diasporas, as curious foreigners visit the country to learn the secret of the talking drum and to be entertained, dancing to the rhythm of the Iya-Ilu and Bata talking drums.
The extent and depth of Yoruba culture reveal the rich variations of the civilisation of the people. From music to fashion to arts, the evolution of the Yoruba people has been intriguing. One of these rich aspects is the place and prestige of the Yoruba traditional talking drums.
Cultural troupes from about sixteen States in the country, as well as national troupes from about ten African countries are participating.
The colourful opening ceremony was attended by eminent personalities, and traditional rulers, including the Permanent Chairman, Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs, His Imperial Majesty, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi 111, the Ooni of Ife, the Alake of Egbaland, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi and others.
They were received by Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and his wife, Olufunso.
According to Oba Adeyemi, the talking drum of the Yoruba originated from Oyo. It was first assembled for the Alaafin, as his musical outfit whenever he goes to war. He used it to motivate his army. Today, we celebrate it because it is one of the things the Africans, the Oyo people and Yoruba gave to the world and which cannot be done by any other.
‘So, the festival aims at celebrating the ingenuity of this important cultural device of the Yoruba people. Even the white men are now learning how to drum and it would be a disaster if we will have to be taught how to drum later by strangers. We need to make sure that the West also learn something from us. The truth is that we have drums all over the world, if not why do they celebrate classical music in Togo? Why do they celebrate blues, soul music. These days, the rhythm of the drum, the dancers’ steps are dictated by the rhythm of the drum. Also, before you are crowned Alaafin, you are taken to the shrines of your forebears and you are made to learn as you are made to learn the intricacies of the dance steps of your ancestors. And all the dance steps you see me displaying are mostly the dance steps of my predecessors, and the Alaafin would not be complete if he cannot display rich culture of his Yoruba people through dance, music, oriki and so on’’.
Alaafin, whose address was interjected with rounds of applause, argued that Yoruba talking drum goes beyond mere entertainment value, and not mere percussion to which people can rhythmically dance.
“As a royal father and custodian of Yoruba heritage, the talking drum is an important cultural evaluation of the Yoruba people and it was given leap and pioneered by the Oyo Yoruba. When people hear of the talking drum, they believe it is just an instrument to be drummed for people to dance but it is not so, we can use it as a means of conveying message’’.
The paramount ruler continued, ‘’ One can convey messages in diverse forms, one can convey messages in a long or short distance, depending upon the situation. As an Oba or a traditional Chief like the Alaafin of Oyo, the palace would not be complete without the talking drum. The talking drum wakes up the Alaafin early in the morning from 5 am and starts with the reciting of the Oriki of the past Alaafins, telling the incumbent Alaafin the challenges they faced, how they overcome the challenges and problems as well as the methods, they used so the talking drum serves as an important instrument of history. The drum goes on to talk about particular songs, dance steps or mannerisms of a past Alaafin to enable the incumbent Alaafin know the history of his predecessors.’’.
‘’This is why in Yoruba land, especially in Oyo, every Alaafin is the representative of all his ancestors. And it is important that he knows all their history. Our history and oral traditions were handed down to us by purely non-literate people. So, the talking drum is an important source of history. Other sources aside the talking drums are poetry or what we call chants. Almost all the established Oyo families, compounds, lineages, can recite their Orikis, and these are done with the talking drum. The Oriki can’t be complete without the Sekere and talking drums.’’
The drummers, he said, can identify each lineage through its traditional praise song. Nobody in Africa or Nigeria has been able to do an in-depth study of this aspect of our tradition/culture and put down the praise songs of each family lineage, but the drummers can do it.
‘’In the palace, the talking drummers energise the Alaafin. When they come out in the morning they start by singing: ‘ Adeyemi dide ko bosi sokoto, enikan ke fise igbese ran omo eni dide o bosi sokoto” meaning, Alaafin, wake up and gather your loins, the responsibility that tradition assigns to you cannot be delegated’’.
This means that once you are crowned the Alaafin, you have very little private life of your own, your entire life would be centred on the service of your people, rain or sunshine, the drummers are always there till they close at close to 7pm on a daily basis. They also know the visitors who come to the palace and they always let me know if I want to see a visitor or not. In war, they use drums to energise, encourage and motivate the solders and in time of sorrow, they use it to console the people.”
These talking drums have remained a musical wonder to people of the African continent, but especially to people outside of the continent in Europe, America, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean. They marvel on how it talks, and what makes it talk; what makes it speak the language of the people.
African drums hold a special place in the history of the continent.