Different Kinds of Drums for Different Purposes

Different Kinds of Drums for Different Purposes (Willis Bocock)

Title: Drum Functional Form

General Information about Item:

  • Material Lore, tradition
  • Language: N/A
  • Continent of Origin: Africa
  • Informant: Caelen Corr
  • Date Collected: 2-27-18

Informant Data:

  • Caelen Corr is a 22-year old male who currently attends Dartmouth College.  He was born and raised in New York, but has worked in San Francisco.  Caelen is a highly skilled guitar player and singer, and actually started his own band with a few friends that they call “The Cintas Experiment.” He plans on moving to Nashville after graduation to pursue a career in music after college.

Contextual Data:

  • Cultural Context: In African Drumming culture, there are many different types of drums that different villages use. Some use tall skinny drums, while others use rounded and short drums.
  • Social Context: Differently shaped drums are designed for many different reasons. Drums in Africa have been used for a variety of purposes, including inter-village communication, story-telling, and entertainment, and so it is unsurprising that there are different types of drums for each purpose.


  • Single-headed drums, such as bongos or tambas, are typically used in African cultures for entertainment, dancing, festivities, and celebration purposes. These drums are more common and do not have a significantly sacred status. In contrast, double-headed drums, such as bata drums, are very sacred and must not be touched unless it is by the designated owner. The two-headed drums are typically used in more ceremonial, sacred, and important purposes such as bende ceremonies, religious occasions, and more.


  • “I remember talking about the different kinds of drums. In class we usually played the bata drums which have a head on each side, and you play them on their side. The double-headed drums are the really important ones, like, you would never use a normal single-headed drum for the ceremonies and stuff that the double-headed bata drums are used for. And pretty much anyone can play the single-headed drums for dancing and entertainment and stuff, but the double-headed ones are more sacred and used for religious ceremonies and more formal occasions of that nature.”

Informant’s Comments:

  • Apparently, he never got to see Professor Shabazz’s personal double-headed bata drums but luckily was allowed to play the ones that Professor Shabazz kept in his classroom for teaching purposes.

Collector’s Comments:

  • This item was interesting to me, but made complete sense the more I thought about it. In order for drums to have become such a large part of African culture, there has to be some drums that are allowed to be communal and not limited to a very small number of owners. This distinction between the more communal single-headed drums and the more sacred double-headed drums allowed drumming to become a very public and communal social activity, while also helping to keep some aspects of the drumming culture sacred and sacrosanct.

Collector’s Name: Willis Bocock


  • Material Lore
  • Drum form
  • Double-headed drums
  • Single-headed drums