Book Review: Music, Language, and the Brain (Talking Drum)

A third instrument Patel introduces which he describes as “a speech surrogate” and “musical instrument with [a] fixed pitch … used to convey linguistic messages” is the talking drum.

Similar to the Krar, this instrument is also used to communicate in Africa, this time, in West Africa.

 wikipedia commons
Wikipedia Commons

There are a number of tribes who use talking drums and who call the instrument by different names according to their language. Griots, or storytellers, were those who most often used the instrument to pass down oral traditions as well as tell jokes or share moral lessons. Griots are also called jeli, jali, guewel, gawlo, iggawan. You might also be interested to know that these musician storytellers, almost like their own tribe, will only marry others who share the title and talent.

African Music, A People's Art by Francis Bebey
African Music, A People’s Art by Francis Bebey

You can find these storytellers today among the Mande, Fulɓe, Hausa, Songhai, Tukulóor, Wolof, Serer, Mossi, Dagomba, Mauritanian Arab tribes. That may sound like a lot of people, but consider the large green area to the right where they live!

Let’s take a look at this instrument and how it’s played. You can really hear the tones and its speech quality as Mali griot, Baye Kouyate plays a smaller version of the talking drum:

Others have brought this ancient instrument into modern music. Consider Erykah Badu and her song, “My People”. This video starts off blurry, but it clears up at the 30 second mark.


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