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Percussion in the world – Talking drums

Our trip around the world continues!

After Japan and Argentina, it is now time to stop in Africa to discover another emblematic instrument: the tama.

This is the third article published as part of our special focus on percussion around the world, after the Japanese Taiko and the Argentinian Bombo.

The tama

Continent of origin : Africa

What is it?

What is this strange hourglass?

The tama, one of the “talking drums” has something to surprise us. First of all by its size, since the tama can be so small that it fits under the armpit.

But the most surprising thing about this instrument is the variety of sound that can be made from it, a variety so great that it is called a “talking drum.”

What is its story?

The tama is only one of the names given to the talking drum.
Other peoples, and other regions, give it a variety of names: dondo, kalangu or gangan for example. Its history goes back at least as far as antiquity, where traces of its use and evolution can be found among the West African peoples living there at that time.

Used by African storytellers (the bardesgriot) on special occasions, the talking drum allowed messages to be heard (call to arms, for example), over long distances.
It could also be used for poetic declamations, the language of the instrument serving as a voice but also as a poetic meaning in itself.

How does it work and what does it sound like?

The particularity of the talking drum is, of course, the fact that it can “speak”.

It does not articulate sounds but can make phrases, by the modification of the vibration by the percussionist who will more or less compress the instrument in order to modulate the sound as desired.

The construction of the hourglass-shaped instrument plays an essential role here, and the particularities of its flexibility are essential to its function.
By playing with his fingers or with a curved stick, the player can create sentences that the experienced listener can understand and translate.

Is it still used today?

Today, the talking drum is used in African popular music, and has spread quite poorly outside of Africa.

The most recent example of the use of the talking drum in the occidental culture is mainly found in the soundtrack of the movie Black Panther.

Although drums are no longer needed to communicate over long distances, there is no doubt that talking drums still have a lot to tell us!

We’ll see you next time on our Redison blog for the continuation of our discovery of percussions around the world.

Until then, take care of yourself and keep on drumming!

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