The Drum. Probably the oldest instrument our species has created. Certainly, the oldest is still in regular use. Sometimes, you really get something right the first time. Cervantes’s Don Quixote is one of the best novels ever written, it’s also one of the first. That’s like the drum for instruments. We cannot know when, where, and how drums were invented. This is partially due to it being so long ago, but also due to the idea of hitting objects to create rhythm being so ubiquitous to our species’ existence that it’s impossible to say ‘it started here.’ Even Macaque monkeys have been known to band objects in a certain rhythm to assert dominance in their communities.
The oldest evidence we have of percussion instruments goes back to 70,000 BC when mammoth bones were swung to produce vibration. For the record that’s roughly 60,000 years before we even learned how to grow food. The oldest evidence we have of, what we might call a modern drum, i.e. drum heads stretched over a frame, date back to around 5000 BC and were found in modern-day China. These were made of alligator hides stretched over wood or clay frames. It is relatively safe to say, that these are the oldest drums we have discovered, that drums themselves were probably significantly older than even our earliest existing discoveries. Though it does make sense that the earliest drums were found in China, one of the oldest civilizations on the planet.
Though nearly every culture on Earth uses drumming in its music, the drum has a very special significance in African culture, that is what this mix celebrates. The drum has a very powerful symbolic meaning. In some ways, the drum is the soul of the community, used in ceremonies and rituals. As Africa is the second-largest and second-most-populous continent on Earth, it would be a mistake to simplify the myriad of diverse African cultures, so as you would expect drums in general, and specific types of drums have many unique meanings across many African cultures.
The Karyenda, for example, is a drum from Burundi. It is the main symbol of the country and represented the quasi-divine status of the King. It was believed that the King could interpret the beatings of the Karyenda into laws for the kingdom. These drums had great sacred importance and were kept in sanctuaries and only used for specific rites.
The Entenga drums were royal instruments of the Buganda Kingdom. According to one of the last surviving palace drummers, the King wanted them played every day at 3 am, as the drums were so beautiful they should only be played when there are no other sounds to compete with them.
One of the most famous African drums is the talking drum from West Africa. Its pitch can be altered to mimic the tone of human speech. In the hand of a skilled player, the talking drum can sound like a person humming different phrases.
Of particular interest is the Ngoma drum. Also known as ingoma, engoma, or ng’oma, these drums are used in ceremonies in Central and South Africa in healing ceremonies. The rituals center around dance and music that can reduce stress levels. The Ngoma serves as a way to connect and heal the tribe, and to support life transitions.
This mix is a celebration of the drum in traditional African music. Focusing on bare drum beats, with occasional chanting, this mix is a great way to dive into and appreciate how varied the use of drums in traditional African music can be. Just like the rituals around the Ngoma drum, you may find this mix helps alleviate your own stress levels. The mix is a broad tour of different types of drums from different regions of the great continent. It is a great starting point to learning about what in some ways the quintessential instrument to the human experience and the many cultures that have recognized the importance of the drum and drumbeat to our lives.