Yoruba Musical instruments

The music of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin are perhaps best known for an extremely advanced drumming tradition, especially using the dundun hourglass tension drums. Yoruba folk music became perhaps the most prominent kind of West African music in Afro-Latin and Caribbean musical styles. Yorùbá music left an especially important influence on the music used in Lukumi practice and the music of Cuba.

Yorùbá music is regarded as one of the more important components of the modern Nigerian popular music scene. Although traditional Yoruba music was not influenced by foreign music the same cannot be said of modern-day Yoruba music which has evolved and adapted itself through contact with foreign instruments, talents and creativity. Interpretation involves rendering African, here Yoruba, musical expression using a mixture of instruments from different horizons.

Yoruba music traditionally centred on folklore and spiritual/deity worship, utilising basic and natural instruments such as clapping of the hands. Playing music for a living was not something the Yorubas did and singers were referred to in a derogatory term of Alagbe, it is this derogation of musicians that made it not appeal to modern Yoruba at the time. Although, it is true that music genres like the highlife played by musicians like Rex Lawson, Ebenezer Obey Segun Bucknor, Bobby Benson, etc., Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat[ and King Sunny Adé’s jùjú are all Yoruba adaptations of foreign music. These musical genres have their roots in large metropolitan cities like Lagos, Ibadan, and Port Harcourt where people and culture mix influenced by their rich culture.

Some pioneering Jùjú musicians include Tunde King, Tunde Nightingale, Why Worry in Ondo and Ayinde Bakare,Dr. Orlando Owoh, Dele Ojo, Ik Dairo Moses Olaiya(Baba Sala). sakara played by the pioneers such as Ojo Olawale in Ibadan, Abibu Oluwa, Yusuf Olatunji, Sanusi Aka, Saka Layigbade.

Apala, is another genre of Yoruba modern music which was played by spirited pacesetters such as Haruna Ishola, Sefiu Ayan, Ligali Mukaiba, Kasumu Adio, Yekini (Y.K.) Ajadi, etc.

Fuji, which emerged in the late 60s/early 70s, as an offshoot of were/ajisari music genres, which were made popular by certain Ibadan singers/musicians such as the late Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Alhaji Dauda Epo-Akara and Ganiyu Kuti or “Gani Irefin.

Another popular genre is waka music played and popularized by Alhaja Batuli Alake and, more recently, Salawa Abeni, Kuburat Alaragbo, Asanat Omo-Aje, Mujidat Ogunfalu, Misitura Akawe, Fatimo Akingbade, Karimot Aduke, and Risikat Abeawo. In both Ibadan (Nigeria’s largest city), and Lagos (Nigeria’s most populous city), these multicultural traditions were brought together and became the root of Nigerian popular music.




An agogô (Yoruba: agogo, meaning bell) is a single or multiple bell now used throughout the world but with origins in traditional Yoruba music and also in the samba baterias (percussion ensembles). The agogô may be the oldest samba instrument and was based on West African Yoruba single or double bells. The agogô has the highest pitch of any of the bateria instruments.

Each bell is a different size. This allows a differently pitched note to be produced depending on which bell has been hit. Originally wrought iron, they are now manufactured in a variety of metals and sizes for different sound qualities. The most common arrangement is two bells attached by a U-shaped piece of metal. The smaller bell is held uppermost. Either bell may be hit with a wooden stick to make a cowbell like sound or less commonly a clicking sound is produced by squeezing the two bells together.


The ashiko  is a drum, shaped like a tapered cylinder (or truncated cone) with the head on the wide end, and the narrow end open. It is made of hardwood and generally has a goatskin hide. It is played with the hands and tuned by ropes. Ashiko drums – or variants thereof – are traditionally found in West Africa, as well as part of the Americas. The origins of the ashiko drum are traced to the Yoruba culture in (mainly) present-day Nigeria and Benin, West Africa. The word “ashiko” is also traced to a word in the Yoruba language meaning either “drum” or (with tonal difference) “time-frame” or “freedom”. The drum has a long tradition in Yoruba culture, where the drum functioned in community celebrations, as well as a “talking drum”. Traditional ashikos were/are hand carved from a single lug of wood and were not straight cones.

Batá drum12543324_184373585256032_850801749_n

A Batá drum is a double-headed drum shaped like an hourglass with one end larger than the other. The percussion instrument is used primarily for the use of religious or semi-religious purposes for the native culture from the land of Yoruba, located in Nigeria, as well as by worshippers of Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and in the United States. The Batá drum’s popular functions are entertainment and to convey messages. Its early function was as a drum of different gods, drum of royalty, drum of ancestors and drum of politicians. Batá drum impacted on all spheres of life


guduguduGudugudu is a traditional drum used by the Yoruba ethnic group of Nigeria. The gudugudu, being a member of the dundun family of drums, is said to mimic speech. Some commentators think that the gudugudu drum is so melodic and danceable that it can sustain a melody without accompaniment. It can be seen and experienced in modern sekere, fuji, apala and possibly juju cultural performances. The gudugudu drum is shaped like a bowl. It is round, small, and has a single animal skin drum head. The gudugudu is played with two thin and semi-flexible dried rolled sticks or “lashes” mad of cow skin (in its dried form commonly called “rawhide”).

Omele ako batagraphic1

The smallest drums in the Bata family, also known as “omele meta”, these three high-pitched drums both accompany and talk.They are played with two leather straps called Bilala (included) not usually with hands. Some bata drummers now play them with bendy plastic strips as well.

Sakara drum     

The Sakara drum is one of the four major families of Yoruba drums of Nigeria.             The Sakara is a shallow drum with a circular body made with baked clay. The clay shell is perhaps ten inches in diameter and one and a half inches deep, sloping inward funnel-wise towards the back. The skin is secured to the shell with twine and tuned using pegs spaced around its body. The men use goat skin to make the heads of these drums, or for the largest drum may use cow or antelope skin. The fingers of one hand change the tone of the drum, while the drummer hits the face of the drum with a stick.

Talking drum


The Talking drum is an hourglass-shaped drum from West Africa, whose pitch can be regulated to mimic the tone and prosody of human speech. It has two drum heads connected by leather tension cords, which allow the player to modulate the pitch of the drum by squeezing the cords between their arm and body. A skilled player is able to play whole phrases. Similar hourglass-shaped drums are found in Asia, but they are not used to mimic speech, although the idakka is used to mimic vocal music.


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