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The Structure of Orisha Music

As defined earlier, Orisha Music is that music sang to the deities of the Yoruba based religions of Ifa.  There are hundreds of Orisha; however, in the Western Hemisphere we work with primarily fifteen Orisha.  The seven primary Orisha also known as the Seven African Powers are Eshu, Ogun, Oshun, Yemoya, Obatala, Shango and Oya.  Orisha Music is specific to an Orisha and there is a litany of songs for each Orisha.  

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Orisha Music is categorized by type.  There are Invocation songs used to invite the Orisha into the premises or ceremony, Acceptance  or Praise songs which express gratitude to the Orisha after arrival, Work Songs which are sung when an Orisha is present and addressing an individual, and Dismissal songs  used to dismiss an Orisha reluctant to leaving the ceremony.

In ceremony, the songs are sung in a specific order, starting with the Warriors; Eshu, Ogun, and Ochosi.  Oshun is considered a warrior Orisha and is honored after the warriors. The ceremony continues with songs to Yemoya, Shango, Oya, Obatala, and so on.  There are slight variances in the structure depending on what occurs in the ceremony.

Orisha music is facilitated by the Okpon or lead singer in traditional call and response fashion.  The Okpon sings the chorus of the song so that followers can pick up the song, then continues the chant singing the lead while the group repeats the chorus.  The Okpon will give a vocal cue that the music is going to change, then starts another chant in the same manner.  In this fashion, songs are continuously performed.  Usually a minimum of five to seven songs are performed for each Orisha.  A ceremony can last for hours with continuous music throughout the ritual. 

The booklet and CD “Orisha Music for Beginner’s:  the Warriors” by Fatu is an excellent primer for ones interested in learning songs for the Warrior Orisha.  The music is simplified in that Fatu repeats the chants more than normal allowing one to work with the structure of the songs. The booklet provides a brief history of the Ifa traditions in the Americas as well as lyrics and interpretations.

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