Sola Akingbola,
Nigerian Beats
(ARC, 2013)

Sola Akingbola is a Nigerian drummer living in England, where he made a reputation as a jazz musician. When he was playing drums for fellow Nigerian artist Gaspar Nawal of the One Band, he got his head and ears turned around. As he describes it in the liner notes to Nigerian Beats: "Gaspar opened my eyes and ears to a rhythmic perspective that I always felt but due to a lack of knowledge and technique was unable to realize. The first music I heard was Yoruba. It was inside the language I heard my parents speaking and pulsing through the drumming I soaked up as a child...."

He began studying the music of his childhood and now has mastered the Yoruba drumming that had eluded him for so long. Nigerian Beats is a result of that study.

Yoruba drumming is characterized by the use of the dundun, an hourglass-shaped drum, and the Iyaalu (or mother) drum as lead drums, the ones that carry most of the communication, that do most of the work. The drums are made to "talk" in an imitation of the Yoruba language so that Nigerians hear an impression of their spoken language in the music.

The music is very spiritual, as spirituality is at the core of the Yoruba musical expression and that spiritual impulse is evident in Nigerian Beats, which even to these American ears sounds as much like a prayer as a musical expression.

Of course, I don't hear it as Nigerians would. It is pretty much impossible for a westerner to hear what the musicians hear in these songs. Coming from a different mindset and a different set of traditions, we hear rhythm and beats, where the Yorubans hear so much more. What we hear, though, is beautiful -- complex, contrapuntul, syncopated drumming that drives and pulsates and makes you want to get up and move.

With Yoruba drumming, for us in the west, it isn't so much what we hear as what the music we hear makes us feel. And with these drums, we feel a lot. The sound patterns are mesmerizing, the beats irresistable, almost hypnotic.

Nigerian Beats may recreate the Yoruban language but it speaks to us all.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

26 April 2014

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