Talking Drums

The tradition of communicating with the ancestors takes many forms worldwide. In Ghana, drums are the medium of choice.

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Following the Yam Festival on Saturday, we walked around Ho to join in the dancing and music celebrations. The drums were our first stop.

Talking drums have the unique ability, when played correctly, to mimic human speech. A skilled drummer squeezes the cords on the sides of the drum to alter the pitch of the beat in order to affect sounds that can sound like talking. Of course, this is far more applicable in a tonal language, as most in West Africa are. Therefore, for centuries these drums have been used to convey messages – to both the living and the dead.

The bowl sitting in front of the drummers contains a maize flour broth that is drunk by the performers. The men I saw dancing in front of the drummers each took a bowlful of the water and began an intricate dance to communicate with their ancestors – and in honor of the Yam Festival, to give thanks for the abundant harvest.

Here’s Bill Kreuzmann of the Grateful Dead with a talking drum of his own:

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