Guest Blog: Is modernity helping to shape our youth? The case of the “Talking Drum” – Ayamga Bawa Fatawu questions

3 min

Talking Drum

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.

A skilled player is able to play whole phrases. Most talking drums sound like human humming depending on the way they are played.

Culture, they say is a way of life of people with a defined geographical location. Local or talking drums have played an integral part in the culture of the Sissala people and continue to play its role. Talking drums are used to communicate to the people of imminent happenings, they are used to create a beat for singing and dancing, drums are also used during appellations and so forth.

It is a worrying phenomenon these as the use of talking drums gradually fades out. Many schools no longer have drums to use to announce the change of teaching periods and break or closing times. Talking drums are becoming a rare item to find these days as the youth who ought to be bequeathed of drum caving have developed little or no interest. The few living men who can make these drums are gradually becoming aged and even fading out of mother earth.

Is this not a cause to worry about?
Is modernity helping to shape our youth?
What can we do as everyone is running helter-skelter to resurrect his or her culture especially festival celebrations?

I chanced upon this elderly man in Kandia caving a talking drum though very aged. He could not hide the loss of societal values and norms by the youth of today. He bemoaned the destination of the youth as they are so immersed in so-called modernity.

Talking Drum
Man from Kandia (Sissala West District) caving a talking drum || Photos by Ayamga Bawa Fatawu
Talking Drum
Man from Kandia (Sissala West District) caving a talking drum || Photos by Ayamga Bawa Fatawu
Talking Drum
Man from Kandia (Sissala West District) caving a talking drum || Photos by Ayamga Bawa Fatawu
Interesting Talking Drum Facts:
The talking drum is traditionally made of wood and animal skin, with leather cords for tension. Goatskin was common for the drum skin.
The talking drum is known by several names according to the language in Africa.
In the Akan languages it is known as a Dondo, or Odondo; in the Bambara, Bozo, or Dyula languages it is known as a Tamanin; in Dagbani, Gurunsi, or Moore it is known as Lunna or Donno; in Fulano it is known as Mbaggu or Baggel; in Hausa it is known as Kalangu or Dan Kar’bi’ in Songhai is it known as Doodo; in Mandinka, Wolof, or Serer it is known as Tama or Tamma; in Yoruba it is known as Dundun or Gangan.
Talking drums have been used by African cultures to transmit messages over long distances since antiquity but it wasn’t until the Europeans arrived in the 1700s that this became known to the outside world.
Messages sent by talking drums have included more words to communicate the message than would be required by a written message but the message could be sent much quicker.
Some cultures in Africa use smaller talking drums while others prefer larger versions.
The talking drum has appeared in many different forms of modern or popular music including the music of Fleetwood Mac, Erykah Badu, Tom Waits, the Grateful Dead, and Nana Vasconcelos.
Talking drums come in various sizes including omele, gan gan, Iya-Ilu (also known as the mother of drums) and dun dun – the largest talking drum.
The hourglass shape of the talking drum alludes to how it is meant to be held, under the arm.
When playing a taking drum the musician often uses a stick to strike the drum head, as well as their fingers, and they use their other hand to change the tension of the cords which enables them to change the pitch.
Some talking drums are as small as 2.75 inches (diameter of drum head), to a 7 inch drum head diameter for the larger talking drums.
Talking drums have been a part of African culture since the beginning and are considered to help define their culture because they are so deeply ingrained in it.
Many drums in Africa are referred to as talking drums however when they are mentioned outside of Africa as talking drums the reference is usually in regards to the hourglass shaped instrument.
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