The "Talking Drums"

Information about the "talking drums" used in West Africa


History of the hourglass shaped talking drums used by West African griots can be traced back to the Ghana Empire. The Hausa people have developed a genre of griot music centering around the talking drum that is very sophisticated. Many variations of the talking drums have been made but construction of them has been restricted to within the contemporary borders of West Africa. However, in northern Cameroon and western Chad talking drums exist as well.

Cultural Significance

The Talking Drums have extreme cultural significance because they are used as a way to communicate. Before they had telephones, or radios or other means of communication, people in West Africa had to travel from village to village to spread the news and communication was difficult. But then they discovered this instrument known as the talking drum and it allowed them to communicate because it was a type of language.


Various sizes of the talking drums are made but all follow the same template. They are a type of membranophone and they have a drum head on both sides. The talking drums have a hourglass shape and have strings that connect the two drum heads together. These drums are hit using either your hand or a type of mallet shown below.
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Reasons for purchasing a Talking Drum

People might possibly purchase a Talking Drum because they:

  • want to connect with and learn more about the African culture
  • they love the beautiful and unique sound it makes
  • they wish to learn the African "Talking Drum" language
  • they wish to find anther means of communication that doesn't involve modern technology

Talking Drums v. other music in West Africa

Talking drums were used for communication and admired for their beautiful sound that was also a language. Other music in West Africa were used to tell stories, to accompany ceremonies, and for entertainment. Other instruments were also used as work songs to keep a rhythm for a task. While other music in West Africa was used for a variety of things, talking drums were mainly used to send messages and as a means for communication.

The Talking Drum and the Griot

The griot's job is to tell stories, compose new stories and poetry, and also sing and play music. Their knowledge is passed down via oral traditions between generation of griots in families. Griots sometimes used talking drums to tell stories and also it was their responsibility to pass down the information about the talking drums to future generations in order to keep this tradition alive. The griot's (or jelli's) biggest responsibility was maintaining oral tradition and without them their culture's history and traditions would be lost.
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The Talking Drum and Modern Technology

Talking Drums were used for communication and sending messages much like what a phone is used for today. Talking Drum's had their own language and were used as a way to communicate between villages and people similar to how sending text messages or calling people on a cell phone is used for communication. Both are necessary for the passing of information and communication.