Archive for the ‘presentation’ Category

Encoding the Language

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

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Having now given my presentation, I reflect back on how I made it through the talk. I dug up the few articles and works about the talking drums. There seems to be a wider literature about “language surrogates”, but those works treat talking drums in a very cursory fashion. When I began this project, I went straight for John Carrington’s slim volume on African talking drums, which written in the 1940s, provided me with little more than a conceptual understanding of the instrument. For this assignment I needed to successfully play the instrument, not just theorize. McClurken seemed to be looking for more than just theory when he gave us the option of demonstrating a form of early communication. I began to search for more materials, perhaps there was a teaching book for the talking drums? I found little of practical use, but there were some amazing individuals teasing out how the drums work and relate to other systems of encoding language, such as writing.

What I really need was more Youtube. I found a few users who uploaded themselves playing or taught the absolute basics of the system. The visual and audio of those videos solidified how to play the drums for me. I do admit that I still lack the ability to make my drums talk, but I do sound rather awesome when going off on a hippie jam. I studied the three tones and how those tones work in conjunction with the language. While I couldn’t tell you how to say a phrase, I can tell you that if there are x syllables in that phrase you hit the drum y times and the tone’s of the words in the phrase will tell you how to tighten the drum. My project technically tanked; I couldn’t actually use the device. However, I came away feeling confident that I could explain and demonstrate how one would communicate with the talking drum. Below I list the texts that provide good resources for further information on the talking drums. You will notice that few of the sources are completely up-to-date. Talking drums have seemingly lost their status as a true speech surrogate and now represent a past cultural tradition rather than a current and practically used linguistic practice.

To gush for a moment: I loved this project. It’s rare for me to combine my love of languages, drums, and history into one assignment. Hats off to you Dr. McClurken.



Arewa, Ojo and Niyi Adekola. “Redundancy Principles of Statistical Communications as Applied to Yoruba Talking-Drum.” Anthrops Bd. 75, H. 1./2. (1980): 185-202. Accessed: 20/09/2011,

Armstrong, Robert G. “Talking Drums in the Benue-Cross River Region of Nigeria.” Phylon vol. 15, no. 4 (4th Qtr., 1954): 355-363Accessed: 20/09/2011 08:47,

Carrington, John F. Talking Drums of Africa. London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1949.
Nzewi, Meki, Israel Anyahuru, and Tom Ohiarumunna. “The Lingual Fundamentals of African Drum Music.” Research in African Literatures vol 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2001): 90-104. Accessed: 21/09/2011,
Ong, Walter J. “Oral Cultures and Oral Performances.” New Literary History vol. 8, no. 3(Spring, 1977): 411-429. Accessed: 21/09/2011,
Related Youtube Videos:

Ayan Bisi Adeleke – Master Talking Drummer: Drum Talks, 2007. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

___________. How To Play a Simple Rhythm on The Talking Drum, 2010. Accessed: 9/19/2011.

Ilubabamini. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, PART A, 2011. Accessed: 9/27/2011.

________. Talking Drum Lesson, TDL 001, Part B., 2011. Accessed: 9/27/2011.