For hundreds of years, the Yorùbá people of West African have used “talking drums” to send messages across great distances. West African languages are highly musical, full of rising and falling tones. The pitch of talking drums can be adjusted to mimic these tones, so drummers can “speak” to one another. The drummer encodes the language, converting it into drum patterns, and in the process, poeticizes it.
This two-part podcast series explores talking drums as an art, a technology, and an important tool for speaking truth to power. In part one, poets, musicians, linguists and educators share their experiences of this fascinating musical instrument and its role in the fight to preserve local West African languages. In part two, airing next season, we sit down with a master drummer and learn more about how drums function as information compression tools.