Talking drums of Africa


Lokele, like most African languages, is a tone language, that is, one in which the musical pitch of the voice, in addition to consonants and vowels, contributes to distinguishing meaning. In Lokele drum language, the pitch of the drum mimics the tone patterns of the voice, so it would be impossible to learn the drum language without a thorough knowledge of the corresponding oral language.

Carrington was struck by the fact that although there were no telephones, everyone knew exactly when he would arrive at a village. He found that the local Kele people were communicating via drums. Each village had an expert drummer and everyone could understand the language.

Carrington was the first European to learn a drum language. He was so fluent in Lokele that an African interviewee said “He is not really European”. Local people believed that although he was white, Carrington was actually a black man who had been reincarnated into a white family. Whenever Carrington made a mistake when translating or playing the drums, the African players would blame his white upbringing.

In Yalemba, Carrington found two more drum languages corresponding to the Heso language of the Basoko people and the Topoke language of the Baonga villagers on the other side of the Congo. However, he found that out of 200 boys at the school only 20 could drum. According to Carrington, “The boys now say, ‘We want to read and write,’ and laugh at the drum”.

In 1949, Carrington published a book, The Talking Drums of Africa, which describes his time spent with the Lokele people. The book stresses the importance of obtaining adequate background information on the spoken language before the drum language can be taught since the speaker must be sufficiently fluent to communicate. It also covers drum translations, drum construction, and in which social situations drums were played, but it does not address the topics of speed, rhythm, and how a sentence should be ended, which many believe is a key concept in understanding drum language. The book also stresses that drum language is a dying art and that those closely associated with it should take pride in their native art.However, by the time the book was published, Kele drum language was already falling out of use; today it has become extinct. Nevertheless, Carrington’s book remains one of the most authoritative statements on talking drums.


Op voorraad

Carey Kingsgate press LTD

1949, gebonden met stofomslag, 96pp, keurig exemplaar, 22×14.5cm, stofomslag met gebruikssporen.