Black History Culture : HOW BATA DRUMS TALK, AND WHAT THEY SAY...

Discussion in 'Black History - Culture - Panafricanism' started by Isaiah, Aug 26, 2004.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    How Bata Drums Talk and What they Say


    The bata drums speak. Not in a metaphorical sense, but they really can be used to speak the Yoruba language, and have been used traditionally to recite prayers, religious poetry, greetings, announcements, praises for leaders, and even jokes or teasing.
    How Bata Talk
    The Yoruba language, the mother tongue of over 10 million people, is a tonal language, like Chinese and many African languages. Yoruba speakers use three basic tones, or pitches, and glides between them, as an essential part of how words are pronounced. Since tone is a critical part of meaning, the same word pronounced with a different melody means something entirely different.

    In fact, tone is such an important part of meaning that a fluent speaker can recognize and understand spoken Yoruba from the pitches alone, without hearing the spoken consonants and vowels, especially if they know the context and are listening to a familiar text, such as a common phrase or prayer. This is how the hourglass-shaped "talking drums" (called dundun in Yoruba) are able to speak Yoruba praises and sayings. This is also how bata and other drums can talk.

    In the book African Rhythm and African Sensibility, John Miller Chernoff (who studied drumming mostly in Ghana) wrote: "Of course, there is a high degree of specialization necessary to be able to render an exact duplication of speech, yet the phenomenon is present to varying degrees in almost all African cultures, and few villages are without people who can do it. How exact the communication is varies from tribe to tribe. Similarly, the ability to understand drum language is not universal, but neither is it uncommon. Large sections of the drum histories I mentioned are actually recited on the drums..."

    "Ibrahim Abdulai's son Alhassan, who was assisting in my instruction [in Ghana], displayed great ingenuity during an extended prank in which he tried to confuse me in my work by inventing false meanings to fit many rhythms in Takai. Many of the rhythmic styles a Takai drummer beats are played only to make the music more interesting [and actually are not used to speak even though they sound like language]...Alhassan had simply used his imagination to give what Ibrahim called 'false' meanings."

    "For some dances like Zhem, the drum language is a secret, and drummers may be able to beat the rhythm without knowing the meaning...[Ibrahim] told me that one of the other secret dances he taught me, Bangumanga, has a false meaning which is widely accepted by junior drummers."

    This idea of alternate or false meanings is possible because pitches convey only part of the language - the rest is the consonants and vowels actually used, which can't be reproduced on drums. Thus it is possible for a drum melody to say different things simultaneously depending on how it is interpreted or taught.

    Like these drummers from Ghana, Yoruba drummers also talk with drums. As described by Ulli Beier:

    The Yoruba have many other drums besides Dundun and to some extent all these can talk. Most notable among them is "Bata" the special drum of Sango, the thunder god. Bata has likewise got two membranes...There are, however, no leather strings to tighten the membranes and the Bata drum cannot reproduce glides therefore. It is much more difficult to talk on it, and far more difficult to understand it. ("The Talking Drums of the Yoruba," in the African Music Society Journal, early 1950s)

    Darius Thieme wrote a PhD. dissertation in the 1960s at Catholic University of America (in Washington, D.C.) describing Yoruba bata and other instruments. He interviewed Nigerian bata drummers about how the drums speak, and wrote the following:

    The question is: how does the drummer compensate for the fact that there are apparently only two basic pitches on his drum, whereas spoken Yoruba uses more than two pitches and has other, more complex inflections? (Stevick...proposes an orthography based on six tones: four level ones and two glides.) Is it by a process of dividing words into segments, possibly related to phonemes, as suggested by Rouget, quoting the Timi of Ede? May pitch alterations be accomplished by muting, as suggested by King? Is a process of simplification employed, where some inflections are eliminated or reduced, as happens on instruments such as the omo'wu, where only two pitches are available?

    An introductory discussion of these and related questions may be attempted, based on the author's research data. It must be understood that the below statements are made on the basis of interviews with several bata master drummers. They are to be interpreted, however, as preliminary statements...

    Words are indeed divided, as the Timi of Ede states...

    Briefly, what apparently happens is that a glide may be separated into two segments--a high and a low pitch, for example--or an elision of two words may be separated into its component parts. Simplification apparently is also employed.

    This whole subject is further complicated by the fact that two drums [the two larger ones] are used for most "talking..." As previously stated, a phrase or sentence is often broken up into two or more elements and shared by the iya'lu bata and omele abo iya'lu [called the iya and itotele in Cuba]. Thus, for example, the iya'lu might state the first segment of a phrase, both drums might state the middle segment, and the omele abo iya'lu might state the final segment. Another common division of a phrase is for both drums to share the statement of an entire phrase (for instance, in an "a-b-a-b" subdivision), with the omele abo iya'lu then echoing or restating the final segment. The entries of the instruments frequently overlap...

    One may see the process of the division of words into segments possibly related to phonemes (...for instance the subdivisions of kèé [a glide from a low tone to a high tone, as one syllable] into kè-é [two separate drum strokes, one low and then one high], lèé into le-è-è and, especially, mejì [two syllables, a mid tone and then a low tone] into me-e-jì-i) [four drum strokes, mid-mid-low-mid]...

    In the majority of the cases, low linguistic tones are played by the large membrane of one or both drums, mid tones by a combination of large and small membranes of both drums [tones and slaps], and high tones by one or both small membranes.

    I would add to what Thieme says that muffled tones are also used on both iya and itotele and that the pitch of a muffled tone is about a half step higher than that of an open tone on most drums. In many toques, the conversation seems to be mostly between the open tones on the iya and the open tones of the itotele.

    In other countries, speech is produced or divided between drums in other ways. For example, the Ashantis use two drum of different pitches and one person beats both drums to speak. A Dagomba gongon beater speaks on one gongon drum by producing different sounds depending on how the drum is beat, sometimes muffling by pressing into the head with a stick it for example. Ewe drummers on the Atsimewu lead drum can produce at least nine basic sounds by hitting different parts of the head, with various parts of the hand or with a stick, muffled or open, and so on, all within the same pitch range as the adult male's speaking voice. For a detailed discussion of talking drums, see the book Talking Drums of Africa, by John F. Carrington (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1949) or Yoruba Sacred Music from Ekiti, by Anthony King (Ibadan University Press, 1961) which has detailed transcriptions and discussion of talking drums playing for Shango, Ogun, and Ifa.

    What do the Bata Say?
    If they can talk, what do bata drums say? They were traditionally used for a variety of purposes, including allowing a king to summon people to court, announcing visitors to the king, sending messages such as announcements or warnings to all within hearing range, and most importantly for ritual purposes to speak prayers and to play "orikis." According to Beier's description,

    Orikis may be called the poetry of the Yoruba. They are ancient metaphorical descriptions of kings and gods. Always picturesque, often mysterious and obscure. Here are some specimens of the orikis of a Yoruba king, the Ogoga of Ikerre:..."It is not the snake that is afraid, but he who treads on it..."

    ...It is very difficult to get orikis translated nowadays [1950s]. Few educated Yorubas can still understand the talking drum. Even if one gets the drummer to give one the words, younger Yoruba will mostly find the ancient language beyond them. They have learned Shakespeare at school, but many of them were forbidden to speak Yoruba in their colleges.

    The chances of survival of this ancient poetry and music are negligible at the moment. In January, 1955, all children aged six will be sent to school compulsorily; and the talking drum is not on the new curriculum.

    I once asked Regino Jimenez, "who in Cuba still understands the language well enough to know what the drums are saying?" He replied there isn't really anybody who understands very much anymore. He said that Pedro "El Asmatico" in Cuba knows more of the language than almost anybody.

    There are some toques, though, where oral tradition in Cuba has preserved the language being spoken, usually because the songs match the drumming and the songs (or chants) have been remembered. Some examples:

    toques for elegua - last road in seco: abukenke, abukenke...
    toque for babalu aye - chant oyakota, oyokota, oyokota, kopaniye, kopaniye
    toque for babalu aye - song baribaogedema...or maferitutu awaleriso...
    toque for osain - song kurukurubete...
    toque for the ibeji - chant omobeji...kerenkerenya...
    toque for oshun - cheke, cheke, cheke...komarita yeyeladeosun
    toque for shango - eni alado...
    etc.


    ISAIAH


    Back to Home Page: www.batadrums.com
     
  2. $$RICH$$

    $$RICH$$ Lyon King Admin. STAFF

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    very interesting facts ....never knew this
     
  3. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The drums talked in North America

    Here is an excerpt alluding to one of the many laws that prohibited Africans on plantations in America, to talk and/or communicate with their drums.

    "South Carolina’s strict Negro code of 1740 prohibited slaves from "using or keeping drums, horns, or other loud instruments, which may call together, or give sign or notice to one another of their wicked designs and purposes."


    Peace
     
  4. $$RICH$$

    $$RICH$$ Lyon King Admin. STAFF

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    so sunship..... when african was inslaved on plantation they wasn't allowed
    to have musical things like Drums and horns because they could make them
    talk this language???

    I've heard that drums and horns congo's talk speak of death and trouble
    happy y'all teaching this so i can learn more of what the drums say !
     
  5. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Yes, Rich, this goes to that saying among African American musicians, about making the instrument "talk..." Though we are rarely credited with our innovations in music, think about the mutes Black Jazz musicians used to make the horn sound like and elephant's roar, or a bird's chirping... As we are a people who've always lived close to nature, we wanted to emulate those sounds in our music... No other instrument was this more evident than the drum, and that is because it is so intimately and powerfully connected to Traditional African Religion... Can't have service without that drum, man(smile!)

    But as far as the Yoruba is concerned, their are pitches used in the talking drums which emulate our speech patterns, patterns which still exist strongly in what we've come to call EBONICS... Note how African Americans, particularly preachers, place strong emphasis on certain words to give it a different meaning... The rappers, as well as, you and I having a convo in the street, also do this unconsciously... That is the principle of the Talking Drum... Bata Drums are not necessarily TALKING DRUMS, but they are sacred and consecrated drums used in religious ceremony - at least untl they got here, to the so-called New World... Rich, if you really want to get into this topic, I've another article I posted in this forum called DRUMS AND POWER... It is a history of how and why the drums were banned, and what our ancestors did to compensate for that... The article is long, and most informative reading...

    http://way.net/creole/drumsandpower.html

    Peace!
    isaiah
     
  6. $$RICH$$

    $$RICH$$ Lyon King Admin. STAFF

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    Thank you brother Isaiah .
    For the uplifting and inspring info. the link and teaching brother
    big ups to you surely all this help me learn and know my culture & people
    peace
    $R
     
  7. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Thanks Rich, you know you all that, too, now!(smile!)

    Peace!
    Isaiah
     
  8. toylin

    toylin Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    This probably explains why African-American music relies heavily on drumbeats. I never know that drums spoke a language all to themselves....
     
  9. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Wow, this had the makings of a dynamite discussion if only African Americans were more interested in culture - both men and women(smile!)

    SunShip, James, Sip, and Omowale, what say you??? Queenie, your commentary would find us all ears, too, I'm sure!

    Peace!
    Isaiah
     
  10. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Awoyo A-e Awoyo Yemaya lode

    Brother Isaiah, this could definitely be a very metaphysical thread. As far as the Bata, I’ve been listening to recorded Bata drumming for years, and have always tried to study and listen to African Cuban religious music over the years. I have some powerful recordings of Celia Cruz, Francisco Aguabella, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos Valdez, and Julito Collazo singing or playing Bata to the Orishas. One of the greatest Lucumi religious singers (Apkwon) in Cuba, Lazaro Ros just passed-over February of last year, he recorded an extraordinary multiple CD set, each CD is dedicated to the invocations song for each of the various Orishas.

    The Bata drums and drumming in Nigeria are somewhat different than the drums and drumming in Cuba. The drumming among the African-Cubans is more complex, though the Yoruba has been somewhat dialectically changed or creolized.

    Brother, I think we can revive this thread, I wonder if the Sisters are going to interject their brilliant input into this subject. Maybe if we talk about sexuality and cumming …oops I meant drumming…then they will come…(oops..:eeek: I did it again, no pun intended :D )

    You know Duke Ellington wrote a piece titled, “A Drum Is A Woman”.

    This subject is directly connected to the Black female principle...the largest and most important of the three sacred Bata drums is called Iya, which means mother in Yoruba, it is the lead drum and is always played by the master Bata drummer (Olubata).

    Peace:cool:
     
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