Bata Drums

Posted in Other Drums on February 5, 2016

black and white photo on which people are playing bata drums and dancing


Bata drums are hour glass shaped drums made from one solid piece of wood with one end being larger than the other.  Similar to a more common djembe. With a deep history, they are also currently being used as modern day latin percussion instruments for cuban jazz and other similar genres of music. Used by worshipers in religious ceremonies, The bata drum was first used by the Yoruba people in Nigeria, then expanded to countries like Cuba, Puerto Rico and the United States.

Cuba has three different sizes of the Bata drum: The Lya is the largest, sometimes called the "Mother drum. The middle size is called the Itotele. The smallest being the Onkonkolo, sometimes referred to as "father" or "baby". Nigeria has 5 sizes. Adding a larger "enu" drum and the smaller "Chacha" drum.


The earliest known existence of the Bata drum was around 1600 A.D. by a Yoruban king in Nigeria named Shango el rey del tambor ("the king of drum" in Spanish). Considered sacred, the bata drum was typically only owned by kings and only played for them. A bata drum that is considered non sacred is called Abericula profane bata. During the slave trades in 1820, the Bata drum first appeared in Cuba and was slowly adopted into Cuban culture as well. In Cuba, they were first played in ceremonies where new priests were appointed. As time went on, they found more uses outside of sacred ceremonies.

In the 1970's, the Bata drum started to be used in Cuban jazz and timba style music in the United States and they have since expanded into other genres as well. Today, they are manufactured by several modern companies who make latin percussion instruments. Some drums are even made from fiberglass and more modern fiber heads which puts some people off due to the extreme derivation from their original roots.


The Bata drum was largely used as a form of entertainment as well as communication.The sacred Bata drum was used as a form of communication with other players and in case of Lukumi religious ceremonies, communication with believed in deity figures. These ceremonies were referred to as "Tambor de Santo" (Holy drums). There are 23 standard rhythms played for this ceremony. An initiate or player would first play a new Bata drum  and then an old one believing that the spirit of Aña, which gives the player ability to perform, has been transferred from the old drums to the new ones.In parts of the ceremony a vocalist or chanter will initiate a call and response session with the drums.

Other times the drums are played alone. For a sacred bata drum, only male goat or deer skins were used. The earlier tribal drums were usually decorated with small bells and or chimes referred to as saworoide or chaworoide and played by suspending the drum from a leather strap. Let's see 3 examples of bata drums which are sold on the market:


Meinl Percussion BA3BK Premium Fiberglass Bata.

(Dimensions: 15 x 15.4 x 27.2 inches ; 16.8 pounds)

Tycoon Percussion TBA-IYAN Bata Drum Iya

(Dimensions: 15 x 29 x 15 inches; 23.6 pounds)

Tycoon Percussion Bata Shaker

(Dimensions: 5 x 2 x 8 inches; 0.8 ounces)

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