The Yorùbá Dùndún in Local and Transnational Perspective: A Cosmopolitan Tradition in the Making

The dùndún, or “talking drum,” of southwestern Nigeria is a versatile speech surrogate used to reproduce the tones and inflections of the Yorùbá language. Through their daily recitations of history and oral literature, dùndún musicians have for centuries played an integral role in the social, religious, and political life of Yorùbá-speaking peoples. In an environment where oral performance is a predominant feature of social interaction, talking drummers control a key mechanism of public discourse. While enmeshed in hierarchies of title and seniority, as well as in inherited ideas of personhood and community, Yorùbá drummers exercise considerable influence over the discursive construction of daily social life. As their economic support system weakens, however, talking drummers and those who advocate for them are today presenting and representing the dùndún tradition in ways that maximize opportunities for translocal patronage. In their bid to find new patrons in the Nigerian government and private sector, musicians and culture brokers are, with some success, transforming the dùndún from an art of local value to a cultural heritage of national and global value. This practice has been further extended by talking drummers who now live or regularly pursue professional opportunities outside of Nigeria. Through a study of individual musicians and their communities in Nigeria and the United States, my dissertation examines how Yorùbá dùndún drummers, on one hand, reproduce their tradition and its social dynamics, and on the other, reinvent their trade so as to create social and economic value for it in increasingly wider contexts.