Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: Ancient Text Messages of the Yoruba Bata Drum: Cracking The Code by Amanda Villepastour

Ancient Text Messages of the Yoruba Bata Drum: Cracking The Code by Amanda Villepastour. SOAS Musicology Series. Ashgate: Burlington, VT, 2010. 173 pp. CD included.

The analysis of Yoruba drumming techniques and coded language is the primary focus of this study. Amanda's background as an ethnomusicologist, with the aid of other Yoruba experts, notably Rabiu Ayandokun and Tunde Adegbola, provide key insights into the 'coded world' of the Yoruba drumming traditions in southwest Nigeria. In order to fully understand the Yoruba drumming language, a helpful CD is included that accompanies the text's various examples. This is especially beneficial for understanding drum-beats, transcription and notation analysis. There are 42 tracks on the CD that include drumming 'speech' and some 'human' vocalizations. The history of the bata drum, Yoruba religious traditions and musical analysis provides a broad picture for an introductory study of Yoruba drumming. Amanda's incorporation of earlier bata drumming studies and contemporary misrepresentations or misunderstandings with regards to Yoruba drum speech is especially invaluable. The book is organized into four distinct chapters on the history of Yoruba communication, how the bata drum talks, other speech systems, speaking in codes, and performance study of bata musicianship. In addition, several musical tables and black-and-white illustrations are included throughout the text. The appendices include song translations, Amanda's research methods, discography, bibliography, and index. Overall, the most important aspect of the text is it's relatively remarkable collection of research on a seldom-known, at least on a global scale, drum language. The accompanying CD helps the reader understand the written language (notation). The organization of the book is highly-readable and never confusing. It is highly recommended for students in African ethnomusicology, drumming researchers, and those interested in learning a bit more about Yoruba drumming language. I guarantee it will speak to you. ~ Matthew Forss

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