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Ethnographic Museum

Talking with Drums. West African Percussion Skills in Global Conversations

Master drummer Lamidi Ayankunle and members of his family in Erin-Osun, Nigeria. Photo (c) Debra Klein 2005

August 30 2019 to September 6 2020


Many West African rhythms result from a complex interplay of cognitive and corporeal skills that master drummers practice and refine over the course of a lifetime. Their music is often not merely for entertainment – in many social, political and religious events drummers are commentators and masters of ceremony. They recite oral histories, praise songs and prayers on their drums and thus mediate between the actuality of the moment and the communities’ cultural memories.

West African musicians have significantly shaped global musical history. Blues and Jazz, Reggae, Hip Hop and much of today’s popular music is based on musical principles derived from West African musical forms of expression. Often created as a form of resistance to injustices of slavery, racism and systematic oppression, these musical genres today resonate with the experiences and imaginations of people all over the world.

In the exhibition, an interdisciplinary team of scientists from Ghana, Nigeria, Germany and Switzerland showed how drummers and musicians in Nigeria and Ghana – and in the transatlantic diaspora of Brazil – take up their position and make their voices be heard globally.


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