Drums can Talk?!

Music Assignment Module 9 Honors- Sophie Cifolelli

Part 1:

The “Talking drum” is the oldest instrument used by West African griots and its history can be traced back to the Ghana Empire.
  • The "talking drum" originated from the Hausa people. The Hausa People are the largest ethnic group in Africa, located along the Nile River. They have developed a highly sophisticated genre of griot music centering around the talking drum.

The "Talking drum" is culturally significant because it has multiple purposes.
  • They are used by jellis or griots for orally recording, preserving and sharing their community’s histories and culture.
  • Additionally, they are used to communicate messages across distances and villages.
  • They are incorporated into religious rituals.
  • Lastly, they are used to bring people together and help settle disputes among members of a village.

The “Talking drum” is constructed of two drumheads connected by leather tension cords.
  • This unique design allows the player to modulate the pitch of the drum by squeezing the cords between his or her arm and body.

Someone would purchase a “Talking drum” for a souvenir due to its authenticity and cultural significance.

  • It is one of the oldest artifacts from the ancient times in Africa that is stilled used today.
  • Its valuable because it represents oral traditions.

Part 2: (Honors Portion)

The use of talking drums can be compared to similar hourglass-shaped drums found in Asia.
  • For example, the Idakka is found in Southern India and is used to mimic vocal music. Unlike the "talking drum," it is not played by hand and is played by being beaten with a stick.
  • They both “talk.”
        • When played, its tone is varied to mimic tones and patterns of speech. For further emphasis, the tension placed on the drumhead is varied.


The role of the griot or jelli is similar to the bards of old Europe. They are story tellers, historians and musicians.
  • They sign and recount political and social life.
  • They utilized the drum to communicate.

Cell phones, radios, television and the internet largely replaced the need for the "talking drums" means of communication.
    • "Talking drums" are now used for celebration and entertainment.

    • They are also treasured for tradition.