The Beat of Tradition
Some items are so tied to a location or culture that it is almost impossible to disassociate them. Drums are such an item for many cultures across the African continent. Even to those unfamiliar with a single African country, drums and drumming are a symbol of Africa. More than tools of entertainment, drums have been used to communicate, commune, and punctuate life. These instruments are cultural symbols woven into the tapestry of many African societies. Drums have become such a feature of the culture, that there is no one type of "African drum" but there are a number of drums of various styles and purposes across the Diaspora.
One of the most recognizable drums from the African continent is the djembe. It is set apart for its distinct goblet shape. Carved from a single piece of hardwood and covered in rawhide, the djembe has a distinct voice and singular resonance. Originating in Mali, the djembe punctuates all aspects of life, from celebration to death, and even having a role in conflict resolution. The djembe is so engrained in the culture that the drum is often treated as a participant with its own unique tone and place in a performance.
Griots, (musicians, storytellers, and keepers of oral history), were the original djembefola, or djembe players. Over time, who plays the djembe has expanded as has the popularity of this traditional instrument.
Hear the djembe in action here:
With a distinctive hourglass shape and leather throngs, the drum can be played and manipulated in a way that mimics the tone and intonation of speaking, giving it its rather literal name. Varieties of the talking drum were popularized in Nigeria and greater West Africa. The sound of the talking drum is rather distinctive and can travel nearly 20 miles, transmitting messages across impressive distances. Traditional messages can be of celebration or warning and were a reliable tool for communication. As enslaved peoples were brought to the Americas, talking drums were banned to prevent their secret messages from being heard and to stop the news and incitement of rebellions.
Hear the talking drum here:
These are just two of the many drums and musical instruments that you can find across Ghana and West Africa. There are a multitude of drums that provide rhythm to the Motherland. If there is another drum or musical instrument that you would like for us to research and write about, leave a comment below.