Tuesday, May 22, 6700

Becoming Yoruba (c. 300 BC) - Talking Music

The Yoruba are a large ethno-linguistic group or ethnic nation in Africa; the majority of them speak the Yoruba language.

The Yoruba constitute approximately 21 percent of Nigeria's total population, and around 30 million individuals throughout the region of West Africa.

They share borders with the Borgu (variously called Bariba and Borgawa) in the northwest, the Nupe and Ebira in the north, the Ẹsan Afemai and Edo to the southeast, the Igala and other related groups to the northeast, and the Egun, Fon, and other Gbe-speaking peoples in the southwest. While the majority of the Yoruba live in western Nigeria, there are also substantial indigenous Yoruba communities in Benin, Ghana and Togo. The Yoruba are the main ethnic group in the states of Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, and Oyo, which are subdivisions of Nigeria; they also constitute a sizable proportion of Kwara and Kogi states as well as of the Benin.

A significant percentage of Africans enslaved during the Atlantic slave trade in the Americas managed to maintain the Yoruba spiritual religion known as Aborisha.

The African peoples who lived in the Nigeria area, at least by the 4th Century BC, were not initially known as the Yoruba, although they shared a common ethnicity and language group. Both archeology and traditional Yoruba oral historians confirm the existence of people in this region for several millennia. Yoruba spiritual heritage maintain that the Yoruba ethnic groups are a unique people who were originally created at Ile-Ife. Legend holds that the creation was delegated by the supreme spiritual force, Olodumare. This task attributed to orisha-nla Obatala, may have actually been conducted by orisha Oduduwa, who was assisted by orisha Eshu, the divine messenger. The name "Yoruba" is most likely an adaptation of 'Yo ru ebo', meaning "will venerate (make offerings to the) Orisha." This refers to the Aborisha spiritual religion of the Yoruba prior to invasion and indoctrination by Islamic and Christian influences.

The music of the Yoruba people of Nigeria is best known for an extremely advanced drumming tradition, especially using the dundun hourglass tension ("talking") drums. Yoruba folk music became perhaps the most prominent kind of West African music in Afro-Latin and Caribbean musical styles. Yorùbá music left an especially important influence on the music used in Lukumi practice and the music of Cuba

Ensembles using the dundun play a type of music that is also called dundun. These ensembles consist of various sizes of tension drums along with special band drums (ogido). The leader of a dundun ensemble is the oniyalu who uses the drum to "talk" by imitating the tonal inflections of the Yoruba language.

Yoruba - Talking Drum

Much of Yoruba music is spiritual in nature, and is devoted to the Orisas of Yoruba mythology.


agbe: shaker

ashiko: cone-shaped drum

agidibo: a sort of thumb piano

bata: decorated traditional drum of many tones

dundun: in ensemble, comprising of "iya ilu" main drum and "omele" smaller accompanying drums

goje: resembling the sahelian kora (harp)

bembe: kettle drum

sekere: melodic shaker; beads or cowrie shells wound round a gourd

saworo: resembling an agogo, but with low-pitched tone

omele: a smaller, two-pronged, bata drum

gbedu: another name for dundun or iya ilu

gudugudu: a smaller, melodic bata drum

sakara: goat-skin clay-ring drum

agogo: "covered" 3-dimensional "tuning fork"

aro: related to saworo and agogo

seli: a combination of aro, saworo, and hand-clapping

Yoruba Carved Trumpet

Talking Trumpet War Signals

[6715 Ctesibius / 6700 Yoruba / 6503 Sophocles]