The Names of African Drums and Their Uses

by Susan Reynolds
African drums are usually played with the hands only.

African drums are usually played with the hands only.

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Drums are an integral part of African culture. This instrument is used in virtually all African music and is found in most other cultures, as well. Different African drums are used to create certain effects. There are several variations of drum, and some are only used for certain functions or holidays.

Bata Drums

Bata drums come in sets of three, and they can be played with either drumsticks or the hands only. This drum is sacred in many African tribes. It originated from the Yoruba people, who introduced the drums to Cuba. You will find this drum is used in many Cuban and Brazilian songs and played during religious events. Each bata drum has an hourglass shape and is a different size from the other two drums.

Talking Drums

This is also called the "dundun" drum. It is an hourglass-shaped drum that is worn over the shoulder of the drummer and played with a beater stick. The talking drum supposedly got its name for its ability to mimic the human voice. Invented by the Yoruba people in Nigeria, the talking drum is also used in many Cuban songs. People play this drum to celebrate important events, but it was also used to announce rivals, friends and family members to the village.

Bougarabou Drums

Bougarabou drums are commonly found in West African countries. Cow skin is stretched over the hourglass-shaped drums, which come in sets of three or four. Unlike most African music, the bougarabou drum is traditionally played by one person alone, who wears metal bracelets to add an extra percussion sound. These days, bougarabou drums are played with other drums and singers. Bougarabou drums are played during big parties, where the participants dance in a circle and clap to the rhythm.

Djembe Drums

The djembe is a goblet-shaped drum with goat skin stretched across the ends. It is only played with the hands. Historical accounts place the arrival of the djembe in the 13th century Mali empire. Storytellers would use this drum to accompany tales about the beginnings of the Mali Empire. It takes many years for a person to learn how to use the djembe drum, often learning through a single master drummer who has years of experience.

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