BY Stephen Nartey, 4:08pm April 17, 2023,

Did you know the Udu drum which is used by reggae bands was made by women in Africa?

Udu drum replica/Photo credit: Flickr

In ancient times, the essence of drums could not be overemphasized, mainly because of their power to communicate coded languages. Either in times of war or in praising heroic deeds, these drums became the vehicle for communicating such messages. One such drum was the udu, which is associated with the Igbo culture of Nigeria. The udu drum is a percussion instrument invented and developed by the women of the Igbo people of Nigeria.

It is made from clay pots and has a unique sound that can be varied by the player’s technique. Originally used for communication, the udu drum has become an important part of Igbo music and culture. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient Nok culture, which existed in Nigeria over 2,000 years ago. Over time, the drum evolved and became an integral part of Igbo traditions and ceremonies.

This is why clay pots are commonplace in many Igbo homes. Aside from its musical significance, it performs other functions such as storing farm produce and grains after harvest. Bee farmers also use the udu to trap bee colonies to extract honey from the pot, according to x8drums. Due to the peculiar nature of the sounds udu generates, it has been adopted by many sections of society. It can be found in churches, and stretches to reggae bands, as well as other acoustic performances, and is molded quite differently from the regular pots.

A small opening is left to allow air to enter the pit to produce its unique sound. The udu’s function is to produce bass beats with vibrating tones, and typically guides the band or the rhythm of a song as well as the steps made by dancers. The drum is played by slapping one’s fingers on the sides, while the artist stylishly taps and blocks the hole to produce the sounds. This act is the product of the beautiful tunes that comes out of the udu.

The small opening may appear insignificant, however, it is the heart of the udu. For instance, it distinguishes the udu from drums in the percussion family. Covering the hole can serve as a way of regulating the deep bass sound that’s generated. The udu’s advantage of having one octave allows seasoned drummers to anchor the sounds in such a way other percussion instruments are unable to achieve.

The harder the drummer taps the small opening, the louder the sound that comes out from the udu, while the gentle taps produce the rhythmic bass many are familiar with. Today, the udu drum is enjoyed by musicians and music lovers around the world. A lot of dexterity and a great deal of skill go into playing it.

The caution to anyone who wants to play it is that the udu demands the full use of the fingers to get the expected rhythm one is looking for. This is because playing it is not dependent on how loud or powerful it is. Since the udu dictates the musical flow, it is always important for any drummer to take the rapping on a gentle note for other instruments to follow.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: April 17, 2023


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