Drum, The

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The drum is the musical instrument most commonly associated with Africa. Drums comprise the membranophone family of musical instruments. Membranophones produce their sound by the vibration of a stretched membrane or skin. Drums can be traced to ancient Egyptian civilization and were often depicted in Mdw Ntr (hieroglyphics). Traditional African drums are typically made of wood, rope, twine, and a variety of animal skins (i.e., goat, cow, calf, and antelope). The perishable nature of the materials used to construct drums during antiquity inhibited their survival. The various shapes of African drums reflect their perspective categories: These include cylindrical and conical drums, barrels, hourglasses, waisted drums, goblet and footed drums, long drums, frame drums, friction drums, and kettledrums.
Cylindrical drums are straight sided, and conical drums have sloping sides. Both types of drums vary in size and proportion and can be either single or double headed. The conga and Ashiko drums are examples of cylindrical and conical drums. Barrel, hourglass, and waisted drums are variations of the cylindrical drum and can also be either single or double headed. The ends of these drums are usually the same size. The Djun-Djun (Jun-Jun) Guinea, West Africa, and the Donno (Doh-No) Ghana, West Africa, are popular examples of this drum. Goblet and footed drums are single-headed drums, which are made in a variety of sizes. Footed drums are distinct in that they usually have legs/feet that are carved from the wooden body of the drum. The Djembe drum (Jim-Bay) Guinea, West Africa, is a popular example of the Goblet drum family.
Long drums are all drums that are elongated. These drums are typically single headed and are of varying lengths of a carved-out tree trunk. Long drums also can be found in a variety of shapes and decoration. Frame drums are generally one or two animal skins stretched over a square or circular frame. The frame is usually shallow and contributes little to the resonance of the drum. The tambourine is a popular example of the frame drum. Friction drums are made in a variety of shapes and sizes. These drums produce sound by the vibration of the animal skin by the rubbing of one's fingers, a cloth, a cord, or a stick that pierces the animal skin of the drum. Kettledrums are made in a variety of sizes and are often played in pairs. These drums typically consist of a single animal skin stretched over a vessel or pot-shaped body.
African drums are generally played with the hands or a combination of the hands and a striker, such as drumsticks, mallets, or leather straps. Some African drums are played with the feet or a combination of the hands and feet. Music is an integral part of every aspect of life among African people. Africans employ music in their everyday lives whether at work, play, or worship. In most instances where one finds African music, the drum is present. The role of the drum is evident because it is played at various spiritual ceremonies such as baby naming ceremonies, rites of passage, weddings, enstoolments, and funerals. Furthermore, the drum is prevalent in spiritual ceremonies that are designed to invoke the spirit of the ancestors, appease or appeal to the divinities, or worship god. The combination of drumming, singing, and dancing is the major means by which many

[[File:|center|frame|Court drummers of the Timi of Ede. By varying the tension of the drum head, the drummers can alter the pitch of the beats to reproduce the tonal structure of spoken Yoruba in praises for the ruler or his guests. Yoruba. Ede, Southwestern Nigeria. Source: Werner Forman/Art Resource, New York.]]

African cultures worship or interact with the divine. These practices are prevalent throughout African culture. The Yoruba of Nigeria and the Akan of Ghana, West Africa, provide two such examples. In the Yoruba Bembe and Akan Akom (spiritual ceremonies), drummers', singers', and dancers' collective invoke the spirit of the ancestors, various deities, or the creator through music, song, and dance. The use of the drum is also found in African religious ceremonies, which have persisted in the African Diaspora. The preceding includes the Rada and Petro drums, which are essential to the Vodu (Fon) spiritual system found in Haiti, the Santeria (Yoruba) and Palo (Congolese) spiritual systems found in Cuba, and various denominations of Christianity practiced by American-born Africans in the United States.

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Further Reading

  • Dagan, E. A. (Ed.). (1993). Drums: The Heartbeat of Africa. Montreal: Galerie Amrad African Art Publications.
  • Grand Ruiz, B. H. (1993). Africa y el tambor. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Clepsidra.
  • Martins, B. (1983). The Message of African Drumming. Brazaville, PR. of the Congo: P. Kivouvou, Editons Bantoues.