The Drum is the foundation of West African Music. Each culture has its own drum based upon the language spoken. The Yoruba People have numerous types of drums. There are the Ipese drums used for honoring the Egun (elevated ancestors), the Igbin drum; the precursor to the ashiko, used for entertainment and a special Igbin drum used when the king dies. There is also the Sakara, used for entertainment. However one type of drum is used exclusively for honoring the king, and honoring the Orisha. These are the sacred Bata drums.
The Bata is a double headed drum shaped like an hour glass with a large and small head tuned in fourths. The Bata ensemble consists of three successively sized drums. The largest of the three is called, Iya, or “Mother” the middle drum is called Ito’tele and the smallest is called Okonkolo. The Okonkolo holds the temple of the rhythm, Ito’tele holds the melody, and Iya solos by talking to the other two drums and following the movements of the dancer.
It is said that the Bata Drums were introduced to the people of Oyo, Nigeria approximately 500-800 years ago by the 4th Olofin or King of Oyo that we now know as the Orisha Shango. Since that time, it has become common for each new Olofin to commission the creation and installation of a set of personal Bata drums and drummers. I have been told that these drummers for the king are women; however I have no documentation of such. However, Given Shango’s nature I believe that there is a high probability that these drummers could be women.
The concept of the Bata was transported to the Americas with the transportation of Africans during the Western slave trade. The drum tradition, including its creation, consecration, and playing, was preserved by Africans in the Havana and Matanzas regions of Cuba. Here, the drum is used exclusively for performance of music to Orisha after being consecrated in a ceremony called Ana, a dedication to an Orisha of the dead or The Spirit of Music.
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Video of Oro Seco to Babaluaiye, Otin and other Orishas in Nigeria
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Wonderful Video of Master Bata Drummer Lamidi Ayankunle and his family performing. This video also includes an interview with Lamidi as well as a clip of his young daughter playing the bata.
In the Western world, the Bata drums are probably surrounded by more controversy than any other drum. The primary issue is the fact that in the West, the drum is considered sacred and secular use of the drum is strictly prohibited. In addition, in the West, women have been strictly prohibited from playing this particular drum. This tradition is slowly being changed by more women taking on the Bata drum in spite of shunning and social ostracization from their communities. See video of Obini Bata women bata drummers from Havana, Cuba. While women in Arica are discouraged from playing we do have a video of a young daughter of a master Bata drummer playing these drums.
Traditional Drumming, in general, is a complicated subject due to spiritual and social mores associated with the use of particular drums. Such taboos existed with the Djembe, for example, however women all over the world are now playing this powerful drum. Tradition with respect to Bata drumming a slowly being challenged although we believe it will be a while before women on the Bata are a common community occurrence. We will cover some of these issues in more detail in subsequent articles. At this time we include some videos showing the social and ritual use of Bata drumming in traditional communities.
Ipese, Igbin, Sakara images from: mag.liveafrique.com/images/drum_ipese.jpg