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Osogbo’s lively Bata drummers

Sango’s favouriteTajudeen Ayanloye is one of the many drummers at Osogbo, and he   has risen to the level of an expert in performing with the…

Sango’s favourite
Tajudeen Ayanloye is one of the many drummers at Osogbo, and he   has risen to the level of an expert in performing with the Bata as well as the Dundun drums. It is soon clear during the discussion that he has a special fondness for the Bata drum, which is regarded as sacred in some quarters in Yorubaland. His round face glows as he speaks about the drum, at a spot within the palace of the Ataoja of Osogbo, which is very festive this afternoon, being the eve of the grand finale of the Osun Osogbo festival. He says that he was born into a family of Bata drummers, and that almost everybody in his family which is made up of 26 persons, can beat the famous drum. He adds that his family hails from Oyo, and that a long time ago, the people of Osogbo welcomed Sango into their town with the music of the Bata drum. His words ‘When Sango, the god of thunder was coming from Oyo Alafin, it was the Bata drum that was used to herald his movement into Osogbo’. He says that Bata is a personal symbol of Sango. According to him ‘Bata belongs to Sango.It is his favourite traditional dance.Bata is also used as music for masquerades. Tajudeen adds that Bata music is also used as part of the annual Osun festival. His words ‘When you want to speak in proverbs, you use Bata. The drum communicates in a rich poetic style ’. Bata is used to address the Egungun masquerades, and  it is also used to talk to Sango as well,he emphasises.He repeats with a smile ‘When the Bata drum is beaten,only  Sango and the Egungun understand its beat and message.’
Bata’s from Oyo
In Osogbo, there are two main Bata families. These are families which have been involved with the Bata drum from time immemorial.  According to Tajudeen ‘These are Ile Alu Bata and Ile Oloya Bata families.’ Speaking generally ,Tajudeen says that some people ,like himself,are born into the art of beating the Bata.Then  there are others who go forward to learn how to beat the drum. He explains that those who are born into the art, learn the style of Bata drumming by escorting their parents to occasions where the latter perform. The young ones learn by observing what goes on around them. His words ‘When the parents are going to functions, they take their young ones with them.At such events the young ones learn the art.They are not taught as such.They learn by observing and copying. ’ According to him Bata speaks in proverbs which are only understood ‘by those who have the orientation. When the drums are beaten, then those with the necessary orientation, will do the interpretation for the audience or the listener.’He also adds that there are some people who have ‘ears for the Bata. They  are naturally skilled in decoding the drumbeat of Bata. The origin of Bata lies in Oyo. Thus those who have connections with Oyo, easily understand the message of the drum’. He says that not everybody understands the language of Bata, but once the listener grasps the message, the drumming will have impact on him.’  Bata is an inheritance from unknown generations, he explains to Weekly Trust, and adds that Bata today is growing, rather than declining. According to him ‘Bata is growing. People take it abroad, and many continue to appreciate it.  Some youths come to Osogbo to learn Bata, and, having learnt, they now take it abroad.’ Osogbo, like Oyo has become a school for people to learn Bata.
Those who beat the Bata drum are the same group of people who make the drum. The Omo tree is useful for this purpose Weekly Trust is told. Animal skin is also used to make the thread that goes round the drum, which is a royal drum meant for Sango alone.It is used by herbalists, as well as Sango devotees.There is also a young drummers association in Osogbo, which works closely with the government of the state of Osun.
Sacred music
Olabisi Adekanla writing in Imesi-Ile The Ancient Kiriji War Camp commenting on Bata opines ‘Bata drum is the specified music for the adherents of Sango, Sanponna, Oya, Ibeji, Egungun, Alarinjo, the Ogbonis, Ifa, Erinle  and interested funeral celebrants. As many variants of the music as are needed can be produced from the drum in accordance with the occasion.’(p.53) Fakayode Faniyi, writing in the publication released as part of the 2013 Osun Osogbo Festival, says on the Bata ‘Bata sounds are totally different from other drums.The Bata drums have high pitched tones. It can also sound like a talking drum in output, but the output is different’. He adds that Bata is much more sacred than other drums in Yorubaland ‘because it is common during annual festivals and initiation ceremonies. But in the last twenty years Bata also competes with other drums in the daily social life of our people (p.56). On the spread of Bata as an art form today, he states ‘A lot of people are learning how to beat Bata in a few weeks or in a month’s time. These students of the Bata drum are traveling here from various countries to study. In time they will become professional Bata drummers’. (p.57).
In the Church
David Ayandoja began to perform with the Bata drum in 1933. He might have been the oldest Bata drummer present last week at the grand finale of the Osun Osogbo festival. Like Tajudeen above, he too says that he was born into the art of Bata drumming, and that he hails from a family of Bata drummers. Bata music is used to praise Sango, and it is also used as part of the worship of Ifa,Oya,Osun and Egungun. Born at Imesi, Osun state, he boasts he has travelled far and wide throughout Nigeria to perform with his Bata drum. He recollects that in the past, he used to trek across vast distances, until the coming of cars changed all that. He adds that Bata music has entered the Church today, and that it has become part of Church rituals. In his career he has trained some 22 persons, he tells Weekly Trust.He has three children, and they are all involved with the Bata performance.
1st Female Bata drummer
The present  seems to be a good season for Bata in Nigeria.In addition to the fact that it is not just  growing locally, and being exported to other countries, Nigeria has produced its first female Bata performer in the person of Ibukun Ayoola, also  known as Olo Omidan Bata, who  is already making waves in the country. Victor Akande, writing recently in The Nation on Sunday states ‘Historically, Olo is from Oyo, where the people are renowned for their prowess and magic feats with the Bata drum, which traditionally is their ancestral and cultural symbolism when it comes to entertainment.’
I first listened to   Bata drumming and watched the marvelous   dance that went with it, some years ago at the Drama Village of the Ahmadu Bello University.I was stunned and excited and wanted more of it. But it would have been rude for a lone voice to stop the performance and ask for a repeat of the unforgettable dance and drumming. Last week I was in Osogbo to cover the annual Osun Osogbo Festival. Before long the Bata musicians came along, and I was able to reconnect with the melody of this very special drum. I had hearkened to its fine rhythm one evening some 14 years ago. For me, this new experience was really a kind of cultural   baptism which also occurred deep inside, and led me down a   colourful corridor into many rich aspects of Yoruba culture. Today, I can say I have fully reconnected with what began 14 years ago, on a mild harmattan evening in Zaria.

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