Bata Drums are a set of three drums that are of Yoruba origin (ethnic group of Nigeria, West Africa). Although these drums originated in Nigeria, they are also found in Cuba due to the forced enslavement and migration of Africans from Old Dahomey to the former Spanish colony of Cuba during the era of African enslavement. The drums are used to play the sacred music of the Yoruba people.
There are two types of Bata drums: the traditional Bata, which are played in Nigeria, West Africa, and those that are played in Cuba by practitioners of the Lucumi and Santeria spiritual systems (Yoruba-based). The Bata drum is a hollowed wooden cylinder (carved wood/glued slats of wood) with two open ends (each of different diameter) that are covered by specially treated goat or cow skin. The skins of traditional (Nigeria) Bata are attached to the body of the drum by a system of interwoven straps. The skins of the Cuban Bata are attached to the drum's body by a series of metal rings and tension rods.
Both types of Bata are played at both ends as they sit horizontally on the lap of the Bata drummers. The traditional Bata are played with leather straps, whereas the Cuban Bata are played by hand. Both heads of each of the three drums has its own distinct sonar range. While playing these drums, each player produces a distinct rhythm, which, when combined with the other rhythms, produces polyrhythms designated for various Orisa (deities) of the Yoruba/Lucumi/Santeria pantheon. The combined Bata music, songs, and dancing operate in concert to invoke the deities and spiritual possession.
Along with its own distinct range, each Bata has its own character and name. The lead drum, called the Iya (EE-Yah), which means mother in Yoruba, is the largest and lowest in range. The middle drum (in range and size) is called the Itotele (EE-toh-ta-lay), a Yoruba-derived name that implies completed action. The Ikonkolo (EE-Kon-Ko-Lo), the smallest drum and highest in range, derives its name from a combination of the words Kob (to sing) and Lo (to play a musical instrument). Additionally, the Iya is adorned with a string of small bells called the Cbawuoro or Cbaguoro, which enhances the sound of the drum, and a resin-like substance called Ida (EE-dah), which is placed at the center of the largest head to dampen the sound.
Bata drums require special care, which includes consecration, feeding, and special storage. The drums are consecrated by a babalawo (traditional priest) after they are constructed. The feeding of the Bata drums involves sacrifice and ritual, which is conducted by the Babalawo before they are played in ceremony. When not being played, the Bata are placed with their smallest heads facing up or hung from the wall and not allowed to touch the ground. Bata drums are also thought to possess magical powers.