The roots of the talking drum are found in the Mali Empire (10th-16th C. AD); where master drummers who were also griots would travel throughout the villages playing the news of the day. Today the talking drum can be found throughout West Africa, with many variations of the drums and music.

The Walo Walo of Senegal who are the descendents of the ancient Wolof kingdom of Walo, have played the tama (Senegalese talking drum) for over three and a half centuries. Walo Walo drummers use rhythms extensively to represent words. The audience knows by tradition what the rhythms represent.

The Dagbamba of northern Ghana developed the high standard of ensemble talking drumming, as many as fifty to a hundred drummers assemble to perform the history of Dagbon. Dagbamba master drummers assign praise-names to chiefs and luminaries, playing funerals, festivals, and ceremonies. The Dagbamba play proverbs on the Luna (talking drum), these proverbs became the roots of their dance beats.

The Yoruba of Nigeria have played talking drum for generations. With the rise of Islam in Nigeria in the early 20th century, new music began to emerge with strong Islamic influences. Waka was the first of these new sounds, typically sung by women, waka songs often use phrases from the Koran. Sakara was developed after waka, and spread throughout Lagos by the 1930's. Sakara not only refers to a musical style but to a dance and a drum as well. Agidigbo, Fuji, Apala, and Juju were developed as well. Contemporary Juju music is enjoyed worldwide with its pulsating talking drums setting the pace for artists like Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade.

The talking drum is carved from a solid piece of wood into an hourglass shape, goat skin heads are placed on each end of the shell. These heads are connected by rope strung back and forth between them. The talking drum is played with a curved stick held in one hand, with the drum tucked under the arm, held in place by a strap or cloth over the shoulder. The pitch of the drum is changed by varying the pressure on the rope, giving the drum the inflection of speech.

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Bata Djembe Dunun Mbira Talking Drum Supplemental Reading