Bata Drummer

An integral part of African culture is music and dance. Art and culture are also one part of the African lifestyle that can’t be done away with. These activities are birthed, usually, as a result of rhythm and sound; the mere mention of which brings beats to mind. These rhythmic beats are created by various musical instruments. It is noteworthy to state that every ethnic group has their predominant musical instruments.

The Yorubas have been known for their love for parties, ‘owambe’ as it is popularly referred to. At these events, beautiful African prints are adorned, with their “gele” and “fila” difficult to ignore. It is also with no element of surprise that these events include music, dance to drums. The common drums present at these “owambe” include gangan, the gbedu and some others that are popularly known for their entertaining feature. One drum that has retained its traditional use and importance is the Bata drum. 

Bata Drummer

The Bata drum is one of the important drums in Yorubaland known for its special and religious importance. The drum has been said to have existed for over 5 centuries and has been used as a speech surrogate between humans and deities like Sango, Oya, Ogun and Esu Egungun. A version of the historical fact says that Sango performed his rituals while listening to the beats of the Bata drum. This is the reason most Sango plays and stories have the Bata drum played.

Bata drums

Historically, the Bata drum isn’t one of definite origin. This is due to the African culture being for a long time, undocumented and orally transferred. However, the almost concrete and accepted origin of the Bata drum has been traced to Sango. He, according to stories, was the Alaafin of Oyo and upon death, the drum was created to enable his people to communicate with him. 

The Bata drum has an hourglass-like shaped wooden structure which unlike the Gangan, which has both sides to be of equal radius, has one end larger than the other.  Also unlike the omele, the Bata drum is a set of 3 drums. This set is like a family. There’s the “Iyaalu” which is the largest of them all. Next in line is the “itontele” which is smaller than the iyaalu but bigger that the “okonkolo” which is the smallest of them all. The itontele serves as a support to the iyaalu while the okonkolo serves as a support to the itontele. Together, when beat, they all form a rhythm like the song of “ogun” or “sango”.

Bata Drummers

The special nature and importance accredited to the Bata drum begins from the construction process. The drum, though is made of wood, isn’t of any wood. The wood logs are durable and strong. Some woods used include the pear tree “omo tree”, the mahogany; “apa tree”, the “iroko” tree and the “ara tree”. The drum’s wooden frame is hand-carved and well dried in the sun to allow for durability. The wooden shell, “igi ilu”, made of this durable wood is then covered with leather using thick broomsticks “egi ilu” to hold them down. Further beautification is done by wire work which is traditionally known as “osan”. This is used to tighten the membrane and decorate the drum. The “iro or oda”, a black substance, is placed on the “inu”-the larger end of the drum. This helps to control the sound coming from the drum. The drum has the cowries as accessories; they give it a jingling sound. 

Finally, in the physical composition of the drum is the “bilala” which is occasionally used as the drumstick. The Bata drum is played using both hands but sometimes the bilala is used to hit the smaller end.

Bata Drummers

Like most other cultural aspects in Africa, the Bata drum has also gone beyond the originating land. The drum is also used in places such as Cuba and Brazil. This journey has its credits to the trans Saharan slave trade. Despite this, the Bata drum still retains its origin in Yoruba land and is still used in festivals, coronations and special occasions.

YUSUF, Fathia Abolore 

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