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Celebrating the Talking Drum

By Oba Adeyemi, The Alaafin of Oyo
Interview By WOLE BALOGUN

In Yoruba land, the talking drum is a percussion to which people can rhythmically dance, but the Alaafin of Oyo, His royal majesty, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi said recently that the cultural significance of the Yoruba talking drum goes beyond mere entertainment value. The royal father spoke on the preparation for the proposed drum festival slated for next month (Feb 22-27) and being organised by Mr. Morakinyo Olusiji of the Ayangalu tourist centre, Ibadan, Oyo State.

As a royal father and custodian of Yoruba heritage, the Alaafin told Daily Sun about his involvement in the proposed cultural festival. “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.

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 5.00 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. And that 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 Oyo empire which comprised the Bashorun, the Oyo mesi, the Agbaakin, Samo, Alapini, Lagelu, Akininiku and Asipa, etc.

This class order is sub-divided into smaller units, and the drummers 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.”

Drums as centre of attraction

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.

Origin of the talking drum

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.

How I became a dancer

When you are born, raised and nurtured in a culture, you know the impact of that culture, other things would make you engrossed in that culture because you are used to watching people dance to different drums and songs at dancing festivals and competitions.

Promoting Yoruba culture

One of the ways you can promote your culture is by understanding and speaking your language.

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