Drums and percussion have featured in West African music and culture for literally thousands of years; it forms the basis of communication and social structure in that region and music has traditionally been used as a means of recording social history so that it can be passed from generation to generation. This article is a brief introduction to the nature of that music. |
Archaeological digs have discovered evidence of drums, drums sticks and other percussion instruments in the region. Some of the rhythms played today were formed hundreds of years ago (it’s almost impossible to know exactly when) and it is quite clear that the influences for these rhythms came from nature. One ancient rhythm called ‘KuKu’ quite clearly imitates the sound of a bird.
Types of Instrument
Percussion instruments vary from naturally occurring instruments such as seed pods, to hand percussion such as a cowbell being struck with a metal rod or ring, to drums that have been constructed with a skin stretched over a wooden shell. The drums form the ‘meat’ of the music and, when played by a Master, can be surprisingly melodic. Shakers, bells and other percussion sounds add the ‘spice’ to the music and together they make a rich and full rhythm that has a profound effect on the body.
There are many different types of drum in West African music but the main ones are; Djembe, a goblet shaped hand drum usually with goat skin, the Dunun, a barrel shaped bass drum with cow skin each end played with a stick to give deep bass, and the Bougarabou, which is similar to djembe but taller and with cow or antelope skin with a sound that more resembles a modern day conga.
Influences in Other Cultural Music
Anyone who has studied West African music for any length of time would tell you that they can hear elements of West African bass and drum rhythms in music from Latin percussion such as the Samba (particularly when playing the congas), in Asian Indian drumming (with the tabla) and even in modern pop music played on an electronic drum kit. The 6/8 clave is an ancient basis to many African rhythms and can of course be recognised in almost any form of music found around the world. World percussion has undoubtedly been influenced by its ancient origins.
Of the Masters of this type of music, not many of them would know what a 6/8 or a 4/4 rhythm was and counting and the measuring of time signatures is never done in the traditional environment. Yet a professional ‘Western’ drummer would be amazed at how complex the rhythms are, with the drum soloist changing effortlessly from triplets to quarter notes to accent the music.
About the Author: Mike is the owner and webmaster of Drums and Percussion where you can find a great range of acoustic drums and percussion instruments.
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