DRUM DIALOGUES: Master Drummer and The Accompaniments

Drum dialogue occurs between the lead drummer and the other drummers in the ensemble, and also, between lead drummer and lead singer,dancers or group of singers. The basic insight into concept of drum language communication will be an advantage to understanding the concept of drum dialogue.

A very good drummer should be sound in the knowledge of proverbial words and basic poetic declamations of drum speeches based on his or her ethnicity. This particular art to a large extent is not just about creativity and technicality, it depends on the orientation, cultural background, contextual usages, belief system and training of the drummer, dancer and singer.

It involves a variety of dynamic rhythmic movement and most importantly, responsorial moves and patterns.

It has been revealed over times by many scholars that African musicians are generally creative in their rhythmic formation, hence interaction between lead drummer and others can best be understood and appreciated only by a basic informative knowledge about what happens within the ensemble.

Despite the different cultural background in various ethnicity of Nigeria, relationship between master drummer and other accompaniments are of the same principles.

Rhythms in African drumming is not haphazard, because it has a structural pattern and it follows a principle put into practice in ensemble performance. Idamoyibo (2002: 75)

It is necessary to explain the general principles of dialogue between the master drummer and other accompaniment since the principles guiding all drum ensembles can be conceived under the same conceptual format. For the purpose of clarity, the writer has classified every other drums that are not playing the master drum’s role into secondary instrument section.

In view of this, it is necessary to first of all describe the role played by the accompaniment drums.

Accompany instruments, are regarded as secondary instruments in a drum ensemble. Though they are regarded as secondary instruments, the rhythm they play is regarded as primary rhythm of the ensemble.

Secondary instruments have no speech function basically because of the way they are constructed. By being relieved of the textual roles, secondary instruments are able to concentrate only on musical function since the main stay of all the master drummer’s improvisatory style is vested in the accompaniment rhythm of the secondary instruments.

The musical function of the secondary instruments includes the following:

  1. To play the fundamental background rhythm which the master drummer relies on for his improvisation; the rhythm sustains the creativity of the master drummer.
  2. To provide a solid musical continuum that holds the basic rhythmic pattern whenever the master drummer wants to stray far away from the musicality of the repertoire into the aspect (region) of pure speech.
  3. To interlock and create a musical excitement that inspires the master drummer.
    To complete the musical sense of the repertoire that is being played, e.gOmele Abo’s complementary role with Iyaalu Bata.
  4. To produce through interaction with the pitches of other secondary instruments, a greater melodic interest, which defines or constitutes the musical style and to create an ostinato effect in which the re-occurrence of rhythmic
    and melodic patterns help retain musical memory in the mind.

Every drum ensemble in various ethnicity of Nigeria has a unique rhythmic pattern played by the diverse secondary instruments of each ensemble, but the principle which determine the combination of instruments are mostly the same.

Some patterns recur more rapidly than others. In most cases, the patterns are symmetrical in the sense that the durational time span for all the rhythm are the same; hence they are balanced even though they may not start at the same time.

They may recur at different periodic of odd timing, thus they are not always balanced symmetrically.

The Master Drums

Master drums are basically referred to as mother of the drum mainly because of their dynamic leading role. The reason for this attribute is because of their construction, which determines their size and shape. Akpabot (1986:19) confirms the relationship between the size and shape of a drum and its ability to talk when he says

The fact is that all African drums talk-some more eloquently than others depending on their size, shape and

The chief difference between the constructions of western drums and of African drums lies in the function and use to which each is put. Master drummers are highly respected in Nigeria, because they actually communicate the overall message of the ensemble to the listener. The nature of the instrument adopted or designed to be a master drum enables the drummer to maneuver between playing a musical and or a speech mode. Akpabot 1986

“The soloist (the master drummer) is able to produce graduations of tone by playing his instrument with two hands, with one hand and stick or two sticks, all the other drummer in an ensemble play strictly stable rhythmic pattern”.

It is a general custom for all drum ensemble in Nigeria to find one instrument usually acting as the leader playing a variety of patterns over the accompaniment pattern of the secondary instruments. Hence the master drum is considered by the writer to be playing the secondary role in the
rhythmic session since they only join the rhythm session intermittently. Their rhythms are more or less important.

The instrument itself (master drum) is regarded as the primary instrument. In any drum ensemble, performance is not complete without the involvement of master drummer.

One major important function of master drummer in drum dialogue is that they set the pace for all other drums of the ensemble. For example,Iyaalu bata in Yoruba land establishes tempo rubato, (sudden alteration of the flow of the music) because he could suddenly stop the on going electrifying rhythm and bring the entire ensemble in with some special codified drum pattern.

Besides, because of the liberty of the master drummer to create and improvise freely, the secondary instruments get their cues, change of styles mood and necessary exits or entrances from the master drummer. The dexterity of the master drummer (especially on Iyaalu Dundun) makes it easier for him to combine its rhythmic function with its melodic function of playing some known tunes. Bascom (1953:4)

It is possible to play a melody on a single drum by varying the pressure, within a range of almost an octave.

Akpabot also states that “Iyaalu is the most eloquent of all Nigerian drums”.

Another important feature of master drummer is the ability to play diverse poetic recitations, hence we can conclude that the drum speeches can stand as surrogate for human voice through its ability to make extensive use of literary texts.

This consists mostly, proverbs and poetic declamation which the secondary instruments respond to in their rhythmic formation. Sometimes the lead drummer makes a proverbial speech that may require an instantaneous response from the entire band/ensemble.

There are times when all the instruments including the master drum engage in tutti(collective) performance. This comes in at an interval or at the beginning or the end of a performance.

For example, the Tamburi drums of the Emir of Kano is sometimes played by the master drummer for the other drummers and musicians to get their cue, every drummer at the palace thus listens carefully to the commanding tones of the Tamburi drum for their cue and timing.

The relationship between the lead drummer and the subordinate drums is largely dependent on the speech basis of the lead drummer. Every secondary instrument player therefore has the obligation to understand the proverbial utterances of the lead drummer.

Apart from this, the secondary instrumentalists already have the preconceived idea that their function in an ensemble is to accompany the lead drummer, hence they are subordinated and highly subjected to every call made by master drummer.

The continuity of the rhythmic pattern of the secondary instrument allows the master drummer to think of what to say next. Apart from this, the master drummer is inspired and become more creative because of the rhythmic patterns of the accompaniment.From the foregoing, it is clear that they both dialogue, but generally in most cases the lead drummer usually dictates the entire musical direction in conformity with the popular saying that the piper dictates the dance steps.

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