Saturday, January 05, 2008

Yoruba Bata: A Living Drum and Dance Tradition from Nigeria

Nice mini-doc on a Bata troupe...


Marin 9:04 pm  

Very interesting video, I have learnt more about Sango than I previously knew - it could be that he was mentioned during Yoruba lessons in Sec. school and I wasn't paying attention though.

Anonymous,  10:18 pm  

There are two interesting things about Yoruba dance and drums.

1) The dances look easy. They're quite tough.

2) The drumming looks easy. Except you were born and raised in a family of drummers, you can forget about ever actually doing any talking on the drums. I have a lot of respect for those who play talking drums.

Anonymous,  1:50 pm  

I have a lot of respect for many aspects of Yoruba culture, but i find their traditional dance and music noisy, non-melodic, and lacking in rhythm and sophistication. And i mean this in a critical but respectful way.

I find it too masculine and too aggressive, much like Nigerian politics, and far behind other traditional dance and music of Nigeria. Go the Cross River basin/valley, watch Abang, or Ekombi, or Ekpe, or Obon. Listen to Akata, and watch with fasination when Ekpe's coming in opposite directions clash (one 'house' or 'efe' will have to give way to the other, but not without a 'fight'), they have to test each others knowledge of Nigeria's (and as far as I know, West Africa's) only traditional writing form, Nsibidi. Something, sadly not mentioned anywhere in schools Nigeria, yes we did have a script for writing somewhere in Nigeria, a bit primitive, but writing non the less.

Listen to the melody, its pleasing on the ear, its very feminine therefore infinitely more sophisticated. The dances and costumes are the best you will find in west and central Africa, the drumming is slow and subtle, not fierce and noisy.

I like Yoruba mythology very much, but their actual performances could be a lot better.

Wordsbody 5:03 pm  

I don't know many who learned about Sango at school. But most people who grew up in rooted Yoruba families - or anyone for that matter who watched Duro Ladipo & Lere Paimo plays on TV back in the day - knew about Sango the god of thunder as a matter course.

Duro Ladipo wrote and staged a very famous play titled 'OBA K'OSO' ('The King Did Not Hang') on the life and deification of Sango, who as this You Tube video reminds, was an actual historical figure; the Alaafin of Oyo.

More is known about Sango perhaps, than about any other Yoruba god. Sango is actively worshipped and studied in the Caribbean.

Don't know why the filmmaker described Sango's hanging as 'mysterious'. History and mythology tell us why he saw no option but to...

Ifa Olokun,  5:10 pm  

I agree, totally.

I am baffled how the artistry, tradition and beauty displayed in the video comes across to you as "aggressive". You dismiss (all) Yoruba music as "unmelodic". Are you for real? There are words for ethnic bigots like you. You are just HATING on the Yoruba. Simple.

Anonymous,  7:55 pm  

To anonymous 1:50p.m., all I can say is: 1) to each his own and 2)get to the root of your problems.

You begin with:

"Yoruba traditional dance and music is ... too masculine and too aggressive..."

and in the next heartbeat, you mention a people who actually 'clash' as they dance - nothing masculine or aggressive in that, I suppose.

"...Go the Cross River basin/valley, watch Abang, or Ekombi, or Ekpe, or Obon. Listen to Akata, and watch with fasination when Ekpe's coming in opposite directions clash (one 'house' or 'efe' will have to give way to the other, but not without a 'fight')..."

That's what we Yorubas call 'elenu meji' - those with two mouths who say one thing now and in the next sentence contradict what they previously said.

To even go as far as claiming that the Yoruba traditional dance and music is lacking in sophistication is hilarious, given that Yoruba music is one of the most nuanced you can find anywhere - and when we begin to talk about playing the talking drums and the family of Yoruba drums (which several other West African peoples do), that's the very definition of sophistication: just a man with his drum, talking without words to a crowd of people who understand him. Please be reminded of course that Yoruba traditional music (or its derivatives) is actually one of the few forms of Nigerian music that was 'sophisticated' enough to be exported - think KSA of the 1980s performing to a sell-out crowd in the West, think the non-Yorubas who loved Shina Peters bastardized version of Juju - I saw it in Enugu with my own two eyes. I look forward to a day non Ekpe's begin to appreciate the music of the Ekpes and one of their singers actually sells out an arena outside his home base.

And I was quite amused when I read that you call music that is more 'feminine' automatically ('therfore' was the word you used) 'more sophisticated'. Rather than use a word like 'therefore' which suggests universal acknowledgement, that was the point in your write up when you had the chance to highlight that this was just your personal opinion. Your post reminds me of Watson's recent claims about blacks - what the old man probably wanted was for people to believe there was a scientific basis in his rant, and that it wasn't just his personal opinion.

You want to get straight to the point and declare your anti-Yoruba stance upfront, rather than a rant that's full of loopholes.

May your Yorubaphobic-induced ulcer soon be cured.

Elenu mefa.

Me 5:51 am  


olu 1:46 am  

To anon 1:50pm:
Your argument is well noted, but you miss, and therefore fail to address the most fundamental part- the evolution of the talking drum. Its' emergence is primarily as a form of communication; especially in scenarios where words can't be physically communicated. It was most utilized by Yoruba hunters and warriors, hence the roughness and harshness that pervades the rhythm.

Initially, it wasn't meant to please the music ears. Rather, the success of the talking drum lies in the ability of hunters to alert themselves about lurking predators, reve up fighting warriors off to war, idol worship (trust me, don't expect to wake Obatala up, except with some hardcore jamming, lol), or signal prey sightings. To strip it of the edginess (because such functional uses might no longer be warranted) would be a disservice to the origins and efficacy of the talking drum.

Trust me, anon, if you were an 18th century fighter from the Old Oyo Empire up heading up to do battle against Usman Dan Fodio, the last thing you want to hear is, in your words, "very feminine therefore infinitely more sophisticated" music." Don't know about you, but I want to hear something that'll stir up the "beast" in me.
You think the average American GI going on a raid in Fallujah would pick coldplay over metal rock on his way to kill? Nah my friend, the talking drum to the yoruba man is a working tool, just like a hoe or cutlass. It served, and continues to serve that purpose. Everything else is jaara.

PS: Ever seen a Yoruba man pick up a talking drum to woo a woman? :)

Okunrin meta

Anonymous,  2:11 am  

Oh I see, I understand now why Yoruba dance and music looks and sounds so aggressive. But I must ask you, where you all the time at war? Do you not have dance for recreation or music for entertainment?

Anonymous,  2:38 am  


Thank you for the interesting perspectives on the rationale behind bata drums - makes absolute sense to me especially the bit about going to meet Usman dan Fodio(lol). That being said, I'd like to add my humble opinion that not only are the talking drums melodious and incredibly sophisticated in rhythm and steps particularly to those in the know, they are venerated vehicles of ancient Yoruba oral tradition, which makes allusions to their feminity or lack thereof irrelevant.

Not having been exposed to all of West or Central Africa's (many) musical genres, I would be leery of proclaiming that only music from the Cross River was the total superlative. While it's perfectly acceptable to express a personal opinion it is simplistic I think to dismiss the history and traditions behind talking drums or any other musical expression of culture simply because they aren't bedecked in feathers and ruffles.

Jeremy, any chance of sharing Akata, Abang, Obon etc dances with us on your blog?

Bitchy 8:56 am  

Fantastic stuff. The little girl dancer was phenomenal.

Bitchy 8:58 am  

@ Olu, how do you know so much? Please share your sources. Will go see if you have a blog in a minute.

bisi,  10:04 am  

What a shame that the only measured and sane response to anonymous at 1:50 is that of Olu and well done to him/her.

Responding with facts and reasons, rather than the arrogance of the boorish Ifa Olokun and Elenu Mefa -who can't even sign his name and registers as anonymous. Instead of addressing the author's comment however wrong (they thought) it was with reasoned argument, just decided to shout him or her down and insult him as having issues with Yorubas.

Just another display of the over-aggressiveness which they claim they do not have.

Just observe how Elenu Mefa at 7:55calls the comment a "rant", and then proceeds to write an epistle riddled with insults and thinks he is a better person.

Just because someone doesn't like something about Yoruba culture doesn't mean you should take it personal, grow up for goodness sake.

Bisi - a Yoruba woman without the insecurities obvious amongst some of you here.

Anonymous,  1:16 pm  

Ok ok, looks as if I've hit on a sensitive subject here. Calm down everyone, calm down.

I was being politely and respectully critical. Can you not stand a bit of criticism? This was a critique about aggression, and most people shout me down aggressively.

Aggression in itself is not entirely a bad thing, it seldom is melodic, but it can be useful (as written by Olu), and it can be interesting (especially to people who aren't use to it). In fact, aggression is marketable. I can understand aggression in war, or hunting, or uncivil bargaining, but how about leisure, entertainment, romance (e.g marriage), poetry, and merriment?

My criticism is simple - Yoruba dance and music is aggressive, masculine, and un-melodic. Most of your replies only throw open another question - Is Yoruba dance and music (or the aggressive parts of Yoruba culture) responsible for aggressive behaviour amongst people from places like Lagos?

And please, before you begin pelting away, I want to make a few things clear - 1) Aggression does not mean violence, you can be aggressive and non-violent, so when I say people from Lagos are aggressive, I dont mean that they are violent, I mean that they are loud, forceful, and in your face, much like some Americans can be. 2) This is not an insult, its an observation, so please keep your answers intelligent. 3) Can anyone point out a non-aggressive dance and music form in Yoruba culture, I'll appreciate it. Like the Zulus, they have their aggressive war dance, but also melodic dance and music, the Maoris have th HAKA, but also melodic stuff, the Hausas, have drum, dance and charge - the Durbar, but also melodic stuff for marriage, leisure, poetry etc.

@ Olu

I appreciate your response, you do agree that heavy metal music may stimulate the mind of the 'foot soldier' but i will not stimulate the mind of the 'General'. Will it be inappropriate to deduce that there was not much contribution to Yoruba dance and music forms by women and the elderly, because aggressive, brawny, masculine music is usually made by exactly the type - aggressive, brawny, masculine people (young men). :)

Waffarian 3:22 pm  

Having being brought up in the Delta, I am more familiar with Urhobo, Isoko, and Ijaw dance steps, but have always thought the Edo people danced with such dignity, the Tivs with sexuality and the Igbos with pride. I love talking drums and will confess that I enjoyed Sir Shina Peters, however I do not enjoy their masquerades and I think the Ishan (Edo state) have the best Masquerades in Nigeria.

We all have our preferences, I have always wanted to learn how to do the rumba, I love watching "street dance" but will not be doing any splits in the nearest future. I hate those male makossa dancers and their penis dances, drives me nuts, the women, I think are sexy.

Wetin dey? abeg, let peopple be free to voice opinions without tribalism entering the matter.

Anonymous,  4:23 pm  

*reads post, wants to respond, then sees all the nasty comments, decides not to*

Olu, thank you for the lesson.

Bisi, if you are unable to recognise bigotry, then you're best described as a 'Mr. Johnson'

P.S: Google it.

MsMak,  4:28 pm  

Olu and Bisi, many thanks for your responses.

Anonymous,  5:56 pm  

Guys, chill on anonymous 1.50 - its simply an opinion - nothing more :)

Anonymous,  4:00 am  

I am not Yoruba, when i read what anon1.50 wrote, even i thought it was offensive.I did not get the point of the respectful but critical comment.While everyone is entitled to their opinions, when you use the words,"lacking in rhythm and sophistication" "far behind other traditional dance and music of Nigeria" your opinion ( criticism really) can be read as a put down. I am Isoko and I grew up to appreciate music from all over Nigeria, even from the North which a lot of people do not appreciate. I was not impressed either by the insults from some others.

Anonymous,  2:10 pm  

The last time I checked, Shina Peters' music cannot be called aggressive. It is dance music, and many Nigerians loved it - and it is just as melodious as anything have heard anywhere else.

So there's an example of non-aggressive Yoruba music.

And you'll find that the circumstances of life in Lagos make the people aggressive, and it's hardly just the Yorubas in Lagos who are loud and in-your-face. Anyone that claims that is clearly either a newbie in Lagos or more likely, a sick bigot. Most people who have taken a trip to the less populated and more habitable Yoruba states should be able to testify to this, except of course, those with a hidden agenda. And I understand that Yorubas may be taken as being in-your-face: well, there is a pride in their culture and I believe it has it's roots in the re-emergence (in the 1970s) of culture in Western Nigeria after years of mimicking the West - some of the best times for the arts in western Nigeria, when many of the best Yoruba writers wrote books, plays, films, [Odunjo, Ogunde, etc] was the 1970s.

Furthermore, even though Zulus may have mellow tunes and dances, they are best associated with their war dance. However, not knowing anything about their more mellow music and dance will never make me proclaim that Zulu music is aggressive. My plan of action will be to find out and not take the lazy route of making assumptions.

Finally, has any form of indigenous Nigerian music except the in-your-face Yoruba one become popular outside West Africa?

olu 5:58 pm  

Hope my boy J. doesn't mind me pseudo hijacking this entry.

To anon 2:11am
Check out the almighty wiki. @, an incomplete entry). Talks about some of the other significant, but less talked about Yoruba music instrument. One of my favorite is the very melodic flute (image: background music as Fadeyi oloro travels on a long journey through the rain forest to the home of his next victim). This indigenous instrument is very powerful and soothing to the soul in my opinion.

To Bitchy,
My random knowledge comes from deep appreciation of our dying and hardly celebrated history. I search and collect early African history textbooks being dumped out of American institutions/libraries, and read them as time permits. As you can imagine, reading/discussing 16th-18th century African history won't necessarily earn you cool points at Tuesday's happy hour 1/2 price kamikaze shots.
Used to have a blog, but medical residency has gotten the better part of me. Working 80+ hrs/week to keep the avg. American healthy ain't no joke.

anon @ 1:16pm.
Again, check out the wiki. link above to read about other Yoruba music instrument. Just as it is almost criminal to say the Elvis Presley epitomizes everything about American music, you would be making the wrong assumption arguing that the talking drum represents all that Yoruba music stands for. Remember, there are different types of talking drums, depending on the occasion.

In terms of music ideal for a Warring general, or the early contributions of women and the elderly to Yoruba music, your homework anon, is to research and write a 20-page paper on Apala music, and its' contribution to the survival of oral history in Yorubaland, lol. In my opinion, Apala-the Yoruba's version of a fusion of blues, bluegrass and folk song- is one of the most important facet of Yoruba history that remains unexplored and subsequently, untold; nuff said.

Okunrin meta

Ladybrille 11:58 pm  

I love talking drums. Grew up around that and crave anything that reminds me of it. Maybe that explains why Yoruba movies, beyond the quality productions when compared to English Nollywood movies, remain a fav.

Olu, we have to talk. Exactly who I am looking for! You never know when your knowledge is needed. I have a consulting opportunity where I need your knowledge on African history dating to the 16th century till now. I am in the process of writing a comprehensive book. Please contact at Let's talk about the project and work out a reasonable rate for your services.


Anonymous,  1:46 am  

@ Olu

You've given me a wiki page full of Yoruba pop music? Why do i need to read about Yoruba pop music? My observation was not about Yoruba pop music, pop music is just that - POP, I'm interested in discussing Yoruba traditional music.

Unfortunately, after days of posters calling names, and directing at me all sorts of impolite phrases, we're here still, with no one able to counter properly my observation - Yoruba traditional music is aggressive, noisy, and un-melodic.

I've got to hand it to you for trying, also for being civil - unlike some other posters - about the discussion.

@ All

If anyone, I mean anyone, can lead me, point me, direct me, or push me even, to calm, melodic, soothing Yoruba traditional music, then I shall forever be in that person debt!

Resources abound, a link to a youtube video, a britannica page, a pdf file, streaming audio, anything o please, anything.

P.S. To all those who cite Shina Peters as melodic, pls note, melodic he may be, Yoruba is, but TRADITIONAL he most certainly is NOT. Shina Peters, Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, Marshall etc all are Pop artistes, and not Yoruba traditional performers.

Anonymous,  7:41 am  

Ok, THAT ANON, you are right. Your observations are right.End of story abi? You seem to have made up your mind. If you truly want to learn, you will do the research yourself. Most, not all, Nigerian music had a purpose: to celebrate, to announce, to intimidate, to fire up,to welcome, to start rain, to mourn etc.If you are loking for calm melodic music, may i point you to the jazz/classical dept. of HMV?

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Zahratique 9:49 am  

I loved it!!!

olu 5:15 pm  

anon @ 1:46
Your comment regrettably reinforces the point I'm trying to make-Yoruba oral tradition and history (along with other culture)is dying off. We continue to know less about our origins, including the music. As I mentioned earlier, I usually have to buy books from libraries to study the true Yoruba nation - 22 million strong, spread along the Western coast of the Continent, before king Leopold and his cohorts embarked on their "mission chop up Africa."

The link (took me 2 secs to find) was just to show you there are other fascinating but less talked about yoruba music instruments. It is very incomplete. (Remember, I'm the one who pours through graying African history textbooks). You are right, it is POP music. Nonetheless, it has a list of instruments you've probably never heard about, and they all don't play midfield/supporting roles to the talking drum but are strikers in their own right.
Besides, who do we expect to update the entry if the sons and daughters of the soil don't know their own history.

As for your unwavering inference about Yoruba music, it is probably going to remain so. For now, all you'll hear is the unmelodic and aggressive genre. It is called economics; that is what makes money, and it's all you'll hear anytime soon in the mainstream, at least until the celebration of unadulterated indigenous art, music and culture becomes center stage again.

Okunrin meta

na wah oh!,  9:13 pm  

i don't understand why one must think another is a bigot because they dislike a type of music or think it is aggressive.

Nigerians please spend more time accepting criticism and agreeing to disagree rather than spoiling for a fight with everybody who doesn't agree with you.

Leave the aggro, if someone doesn't like your music, ain't no biggie. You don't need to come back and insult them. It ain't your mama.

Anonymous,  10:54 am  

chill guys, its a music site, comment on the music not the guy with the opinion. I'm originally from Nigeria, parents are from Ondo and Ekiti but i lived in Lagos and now NY. I looooooove my culture-Yoruba and its music. Guys just enjoy the song and comment on how much u liked it, dn't fight with the guy who said our song is not melodic or sophisticated enough. its his problem not ours. RELAX AND CHILLLLLLLLLL. live is too short and u're just wasting ur time arguing with him. BE HAPPY AND LUV THE MUSIC, the dance, u now wat i mean have fun guys. <3 :)

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