Yoruba Drum

The dùndún drum is part of a larger category of talking drums that is widespread in Western Africa from Senegal to Cameroon.

Yoruba talking drum

Tribe: Yoruba

Origin: Nigeria

Approx Age: 1960s

Materials: wood, skin, fibre

Dimensions cm: 48 tall x 17 wide

Ref. Number: 1660


The name of the dùndún itself spells out the sound of the drum; in the tonal Yorùbá language, the first syllable “dùn” is pronounced in a low tone, the second syllable “dún” with a high tone. Dùndún. The hourglass-shaped drum plays not only rhythms but also melodies. Dùndún drummers imitate the melody of human speech on their instrument. In this way, they recite praise poetry and prayers or make comments on the proceedings of a festive event.

Provenance: Helmut und Marianne Zimmer, Zürich.


Unlike the bàtá drum, the dùndún is not rooted in the worship of Òrìṣàs that many Muslims and Christians today regard as backward. As their instrument is not associated with un-Islamic or un-Christian practices, dùndún drummers are more often invited to play at wedding ceremonies, child-naming and house-warming festivities, and at Islamic festivals such as Eid-el Kebir and Eid-el Fitr, than their bàtá colleagues.

Dùndún drummers can imitate human speech more easily on their instrument than bàtá drummers. The two heads of the drum are connected through leather strips. If the drummer manipulates the leather strips while beating on the head with a flared stick, they can change the pitch of the drum and even create glissandi, which also occur in spoken Yorùbá. The two fixed pitches of the bàtá drum, on the other hand, requires great skill from a drummer to imitate the three tones of spoken Yorùbá. A dùndún drummer can play a wide range of tones with a uniform, open sound, which makes it much easier for a listener to understand the recited oríkì, proverbs and prayers.


Euba, A. (1990). Yoruba drumming. The dundun tradition. Bayreuth, Bayreuth University.

Olaniyan, Y. (2007). “Male/female dichotomy of African drums. A guide to the instrumental organization of Yoruba drumming.” African Musicology 1(1): 66-76.

Omojola, B. (2012). Yorùbá music in the twentieth century. Identity, agency, and performance practice. Rochester, University of Rochester Press.

Villepastour, A. (2010). Ancient text messages of the Yoruba bata drum. London, New York, Routledge.


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