centuries, the Nigerian dundun, or “talking drum,” has captivated drummers around
the world for the distinctive way it captures the pitch and rhythms of native
language. Now, a UT Arlington associate professor is using his research to raise
its profile in the United States.
Michael Varner, associate professor of music
and director of percussion studies, took faculty leave to study the dundun in West
Africa four years ago. He collected over a thousand photos, video and audio of
dundun performances and language examples. His research and reflections were
recently published in the journal, Percussive
what we hear about Nigeria in the U.S. is negative news. Here is an opportunity
to relate positive information about culture and language through music,” Varner
said. “This is important because in this 21st century the need to understand and
relate to other cultures grows more essential by the day.”
dundun is vital to the Yoruba people, one of the largest ethnic groups in
Africa. The instrument dates back to the birth of Christ and mimics the pitches
and rhythms of language used by the Yoruba (listen to traditional musicians
greeting Varner in this
video recorded in Nigeria in 2009). It is not unusual for someone to play the dundun
and to receive a response from someone playing his or her drum a block away.
is no other culture on the planet where the drum actually is a surrogate for
speech,” Varner said. “There’s no equivalent use of pitch in American or
European music-- making individual words impossible to imitate on other drums.
This is why the dundun so fascinates drummers around the world.”
will give a lecture about his studies and debut a new composition for the talking
drum and bassoon, “Skin that Speaks: The Dundun Talking Drums of Nigeria,” at
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26 at Irons Hall, 700 Greek Row Drive.
synthesis of European music sounds (bassoon) with African music concepts (dundun)
has never been tried before in the U.S., Varner said. Scott Pool, bassoonist
and UT Arlington assistant professor of music, and the UTA World Ensemble will
performance is presented by the College of Liberal Arts’ Festival of Ideas,
which began in 2005 with a generous donation by UT Arlington alumnus Mustaque
Ahmed ’81. In 2007, that support grew into an endowment to further strengthen
the program’s ability to offer six events each year to the university academic
community and the community at large. Visit
Percussive Notes Associate Editor B. Michael Williams said he
is especially pleased that the general public will get to learn about the Nigerian
talking drum and called Varner’s research compelling.
really study this culture and its music takes a lifetime commitment. I’m truly
excited by his work and think that he is already on the cutting edge of the
adaptation of that traditional African instrument,” Williams said.
The University of Texas at Arlington is a
comprehensive research institution of more than 33,000 students and more than
2,200 faculty members in the heart of North Texas. It is the second largest
institution in The University of Texas System. Visit www.uta.edu to