Category Archives: Music


Percussion forms the basis of music making in Burkina. Drums are used in daily life, to signal a journey or a return from the fields, to accompany mask dances and to codify secret languages solely understood by initiates. The war drum, sacred in royal households, symbolises power, raising the alarm at a time of attack and announcing significant events.


Considered the king of drums among the mossi, the bendré is also found in royal households. It is made from an enormous round calabash, lopped off at the top and covered with a goatskin to make the drum head. It can perform the function of a griot, with a complex pattern of rhythms recounting in a tapestry of beats the complete history of mossi kings, from mythological Ouedraogo right up to the present day. Click here, to get an idea of its sound.



The rabingo drum is similar to the Bendré, but made from clay, giving a lower, more booming sound.


The lunga is a long, thin cylindrical drum, with a head at both ends. Normally slung over the shoulder and played with a beating stick, it is popular amongst the Gourounsi as an accompaniment to mask dances.



The tam-tam is a much smaller drum, popular with griots, which can be tucked tight under the arm and is beaten vigorously with a curved stick to accompany verbal antics.


The largest drum is the gangago, a kind of cylindrical fat bass drum, covered at both ends.


The djembe is a popular upright drum. Made from wood and covered with goatskin, it is usually played on the ground and carries a recognisable fairly high-pitched sound. Click here to get an idea of its sound.



The following are links to videos containing examples of some of these drums being played.


Music in Burkina Faso

In Burkinabé society the function of musical instruments goes beyond the mere sounds they make. The instrument and its notes carry deep spiritual and cultural significance. Music forms a back drop to every important event in life: marriage, funerals, births, initiation ceremonies, prayers and many other celebrations. Combined with the oral input of griots (oral historians), music weaves a healthy dose of mythology and history.  Instruments are typically handmade and tend to differ according to region, made from local materials and accordingly to local know-how.

This week I will begin a series of posts highlighting some of the more common Burkinabé instruments.