Download the free Yorùbá Melody Audio Course here! Listen to 90 minutes mp3 of useful phrases in 22 chapters for Olorisha and cultural tourists! Choose your language: English, Spanish, Portuguese or German! This material is brought to you by the Orisha Image blog and

This Yorùbá Melody Audio Course is licensed under Creative Commons. You are free to share the files with your friends and family or even on your own website, as long as you provide a link to and and follow the license rules: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 

The 22 chapters of this course are: Introduction/ Greetings/ Politeness/ Presenting Oneself/ Accomodation/ Compliments/ Question Words/ Appointments/ Time/ Climate/ On The Way/ Culture/ Orisha/ Market/ Relations/ Eating And Drinking/ Understanding/ Health/ Emergency/ General Expressions/ Yorùbá Names. Listen to it online or download it to your computer (90 MB size, mp3 file) by using one of the following three players. 


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Thank you to:

Moussa Kone thanks all the people who contributed with their work, knowledge and translations to the Yorùbá Melody Audio Course: Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, Paulo Cedraz, Nathan Lugo, Victor Manfredi, Yusimi Moya Rodriguez, Christian Martinek Rodulfo, Wasiu Oyeneyin, Sandra Dorn and Livia Dorn. For any errors Moussa Kone alone takes the full responsibility.


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A conversation about this course

Moussa Kone, the artist who runs the Orisha Image blog, and Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, linguist and founder of the project, had a talk about the development of the Yorùbá Melody Audio Course! Read their dialogue and get some interesting background informations here.  

Kọ́lá, I contacted you some months ago and asked you if you would be willing to contribute to the free Yorùbá Melody Audio Course in English, Spanish and Portuguese. I was happy that you accepted my offer, as I was not able to pay for the work. What were your first thoughts?

I remember saying “yes” first before thinking of what the task would entail [laughs]. But hearing that the work included “a list of basic yoruba phrases for traveling” sold me on the idea pretty fast because it brought together a number of interests I have, under one umbrella. As you know, I used to actively run a travel blog, so I’ve been fascinated with the idea of being in a new environment, and getting to know a new place. Then there is the Yorùbá learning aspect, which is tied into my work for over the last decade. So yes, I was happy to do it. It turned out that it was a lot of work, as you will attest. But the part I did, which was the recording of the phrases, and the vetting of the text, turned out to be actually quite enjoyable. I have also never learnt a language through this kind of audio phrasebook before, so it took a while to understand how it would work.

How and when did you come upon the idea?

Years ago I was studying Cuban batá drumming. There is a lot of theory in written notations available. When I was taking classes in Havana, I realized that there’s a huge difference between playing batá from the sheets, referring to a beat or a musical bar, and how the locals perceived the rhythms (a classical topic for ethnomusicology). I could join in, but lacked the swing. I decided for myself: if I really wanted to develop a feeling for this genre, I would have to listen to it repeatedly, as the people growing up there had done. Dozens of Cuban batá recordings on the market made it easy. It became my constant background music. The results were satisfying. At the end I was able to hear a rhythm and immediately could respond to the calls of the drum, without naming the rhythm or knowing whom it was played for. I forgot to think about beats or bars, I had the phrases in my mind. I played first, and thought about it later! The same technique I used to learn Spanish. I downloaded audio courses, the market is enormous. I hardly can sit down and study with a book, it is too boring. Instead, I had the courses with me on my ipod. Wherever I went, I would listen to it, without concentrating. I read about grammar in books, but did not do any exercises. Over time, the phrases became part of me, I could use them correctly in various situations, without thinking about it. That’s why I called this course Yorùbá Melody: for me it is very much like learning a song, or music. Once you know the basic patterns, you can start to improvise later with these bits and pieces and play around. Unfortunately, for Yorùbá language there is just one pure audio course available, with words like “pizza” or “grapes” (yes, really, “girépù”). So I had to do it myself. As I am just a Yorùbá student, I had to involve a professional with a passion for Yorùbá culture –  you!

And did you envisage how much work it would take?

It was my first step into active translation, I was not aware how much work it involves. I like literal translations, but this would have meant explaining phrases in detail: “Ó tọ́jọ́ mẹ́ta” means “It amounts to three days” in a playful sense of “Long time no see”. “Ṣé àlááfíà l’o wà?” is another example: no one would ask “Are you in the state of peace?” in English. This is complicated, as “àlááfíà” is an Arabic word and you could write an essay about the Yorùbá meaning of this word alone. Also, a literal translation of the Yorùbá word for “toilet” would be shocking to some people. Translation is tricky. In Spanish or Portuguese there are phrases in use that express the same idea, but lead away from the original content. You are writing poetry and you publish in Yorùbá language. Do you like literal translations? Often they make no sense at all to people who do not know the culture. How do you translate?

Translation is quite tricky. In my experience, translating into or from Yorùbá offers an even bigger challenge, because of the turns of phrase and the euphemisms that Yorùbá is known for. There are words you can’t translate directly. You have to go in a roundabout way for it to make sense. Ẹ kú ilé, for instance, has no English equivalent. And nothing in the direct translation of its component parts will bring you closer to the real meaning. So it’s tricky. It’s easier being a native speaker of Yorùbá and a relatively native speaker of English. But I can imagine how tough it must be for you. I’ve actually wondered how you were able to arrive at some of the phrases, and translations you listed. Can you share?

I have lots of Yorùbá study books and dictionaries at home, I reviewed them on my blog. Some phrases I compared in those books, there’s e.g. a wide range of translations for “àlááfíà.” For others, I had to be more creative. I bought travel guidebooks in Spanish and English language, plus one for travellers to Africa. I combined them with my own travel experience in Nigeria and remodeled them for cultural tourists, typically Olorisha. I remembered the situations where I wanted to communicate with the people around, but did not know the vocabulary, like when witnessing a car accident. For the Orisha chapter I had help from Nathan Lugo and Victor Manfredi sent me five good sentences on Susanne Wenger. Most of the phrases I compiled with my Yorùbá teacher, Wasiu Oyeneyin, a young man from Ondó. It was funny.

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What was it like for you finally completed the work?

When I cut the files and heard the Spanish-Yorùbá phrases for the first time it was very emotional. I am used to Lukumí, the remains of Yorùbá language involved in Orisha worship in Cuba. Although there are many Orisha phrases in this course, most of the phrases are based on ordinary situations, like “This is too expensive” or “How do I get to the city center?" This must have been the sound of the streets of Havana, 170 years ago, when many people there were speaking Yorùbá and learned Spanish. It was just the other way round! There are no Yorùbá courses in Spanish available today, although Orisha culture is so important there. I would like to dedicate this course especially to the Cubans and Lukumí. The “Presenting Oneself” chapter has some phrases especially for Cuban citizens.

I think the idea of having the phrasebook in Spanish and Portuguese was actually quite brilliant. Growing up in the Anglophone world, there is an inborn snobbery that makes us believe that we’re at the centre of the world. We rarely think of other languages. But in the case of the Yorùbá cultural and religious experience, English is actually just one (and likely a minor one at that, since the religion has all but fizzed out on the continent) out of its three big access languages to it. Portuguese seems like the next language in line to carry the burden of its religious (if not cultural) experience. So, thank you for that. As I wrote in an essay for Il Suono di Pan earlier this year about this weakening of the religion on the continent, we are animated by the knowledge of the depth that it now holds in the new world. “There is a sort of delightful ending in the fact that Ifá had to travel all the way across the world in a slave ship before returning home to rescue its people at home. But maybe that was necessary, especially in its now inevitable expansion across all hitherto forbidden spaces.” (Il Suono Di Pan N.9. 2017)

The course addresses Olorisha from abroad who follow the Brazilian, Cuban or Abáláyé traditions, and people who want to travel Yorùbáland for cultural reasons, to study the language, drumming or dancing. There should be more of these courses available. I hope someone will be inspired and continue to publish more. I would have many ideas, we have talked about this recently, but I am lacking the necessary financial resources. We would need a wealthy Yorùbá sponsor! Yorùbáland tourism is discussed a lot lately, especially around Ilé-Ifè. I hope this course is a contribution and brings the Yorùbá people and philosophy and the one(s) from abroad close together. Not to forget, the Yorùbá culture we value so much is often found amongst poor Olorisha families. Language is the key for mutual understanding.

I’ve also wondered why the government in Southwestern Nigeria hasn’t done enough to encourage this kind of tourism. Shouldn’t it be easier to get a religious tourism to Òṣogbo or Ifẹ̀ or Ọ̀yọ̀ like people get to go to Israel and Mecca? Imagine how much tourist dollars that will bring to Nigeria.

I don’t know if I told you. The day I was recording the part of the project that included the deep Ifá chants was the day my landlord was visiting. And I keep imagining him getting to my door, before knocking, and hearing me recite all those into the microphone. There is a prevailing attitude in Nigeria that anything that has to do with Yorùbá indigenous religion is fetish. So, that would have made a good story.

Dollars from religious tourism could help the people. But we are talking about Orisha and Eshu – traditional religion! Tourism to Yorùbáland is not about folklore or visiting statues or festivals, it is about spirituality, oral literature and ritual wisdom that lives within the olorisha families. Daily practice in the backyards. Politicians are afraid of working for the forces of Orisha. Dollars are earned on huge folkloric festivals with private sponsors. The more intense moments happen in the traditional compounds, where Orisha are worshipped since generations. Visit an Àyàn drummer, talk to a blacksmith, walk with a hunter, ring the bell while an Oshun priest is reciting on the riverbank, collect herbs with an Osanyin priest in the morning, consult a babalawo, watch a trained elegun Shango dancing… Yorùbáland is full of magic moments. I can’t wait for the first state-sponsored billboard at the airport of Lagos that says “Welcome to Yorùbáland, home of the Òrìṣà! May Èṣù guide you! Héépàà Òòṣà! Àṣẹ!”

That would be something to see. When I imagine how much tourism brings to Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, France, Israel, etc, I just feel sad for the wasted opportunity we have here. Nigeria, since about a few weeks, now has visa on arrival. But it would be nice if there are actual active overtures to religious and cultural tourists. And, of course, we need to invest in multilingual welcome signs as well. Imaging being able to navigate Òṣogbo with Spanish, Portuguese, English and Yorùbá road signs everywhere you go.

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What other challenges did you have while working on the Yorùbá Audio Phrasebook?

Some Yorùbá expressions in the diaspora came to have another meaning, like in the phrase “Mo ní ọwọ́ ifá kan, wọn ṣẹ́fá fún mi”, in English translated as “I have one hand of Ifá, they consecrated Ifá for me.” In Cuba there is an initiation that is called “owofaka” or in Spanish “mano de Orula” (hand of Orunmila). As there are no Orisha family lineages, it is the starting point for anyone who wants to be part of the Orisha religion, receive an Odù and “objects” to worship. In Yorùbáland, “ọwọ́’fá kan” means “one hand of Ifá palm-nuts”, a fixed amount. A babalawo can have more “hands” than just one. But in Cuba, the Spanish expression “hand of Orunmila” refers in general to the ceremony and somehow to the ìlẹ̀kẹ̀ you are wearing on your wrist, after the initiation. Women in Cuba never receive a full hand of palm nuts, they do not get “owofaka”, thus their ceremony is called “ikofá”. Yet they might say in Spanish they have received “the hand of Orunmila”. The Spanish term is not linked to the Yorùbá meaning. So how to translate this now for the Cubans? Literally, or more generally - while generally in this case means literally? I wanted to keep it as short as possible. Nathan Lugo added “wọn ṣẹ́fá fún mi”, a clever solution, to have it described more in the way of a passive act of receiving Ifá, based on the contemporary Yorùbá name of the ceremony, “ìṣẹ́fá”. So both the Yorùbá phrase and the translation into Spanish from Lukumí brings together the traditions! I was satisfied. But there is another (more active) ceremony, “ìtẹfá”, which is the full initiation into Ifá. When I recorded it finally in Spanish with a Venezuelan speaker, Christian Martinek Rodulfo, he changed “consagraron Ifá para mi” into the more common “me hicieron Ifá” (they did Ifá for me). It is a typical Cuban expression and - for the total confusion - also the literal translation of “wọn ṣẹ́fá fún mi.” But in Cuba this expression is used for “ìtẹfá”, and not for the “ìṣẹ́fá” ceremony! I explained him the differences, we recorded it a second time. It is already getting too complicated here, abi?

Not at all. It is a fascinating story about translation and the Yorùbá diaspora! I was surprised to learn, from you I believe, that there is some sort of tension between the Òrìṣà religion practised in Nigeria and those in the diaspora, with Nigerians assuming that they have the “authentic” version while the diasporans believe that what their ancestors left for them is also as authentic. They are both right, and I find the creative tension very interesting. There is a complementarity that needs to happen in how both communities have used the indigenous knowledge to adapt to their own circumstances.

Did you have any troubles with the Portuguese version of this phrase?

The translator and speaker from Salvador da Bahia, Paulo Cedraz, who is familiar with Caribbean Orisha worship, first wanted to add the phrase “that’s how ‘ìṣẹ́fá’ is called in Cuba” to the recording of “mano de Orunmila”. In Brazil Ifá is worshipped and they use the contemporary Yorùbá expression, “ìṣẹ́fá”. Paulo knew it from the Cuban context. It is a correct Yorùbá version, it means just “I have one set of Ifá palm nuts”, literally “one hand”. Everyone just wanted to have it recorded in the very correct way! It helps to understand Yorùbá and the original meaning, but you have to be aware of the different social or local contexts. This was one of the most tricky phrases, dealing with three different Orisha traditions and the translation for a ritual which is basically the same in Cuba, Brazil and Yorùbáland. It is only one among hundreds of phrases. I could have deleted it, but I hope that it inspires people to study the language!

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I remember when I was working with a Yorùbá informant from Nigeria, we recorded some words that were not pronounced correctly. I was explained that Èṣù Ọ̀dàrà comes from “ò dárá” – “Eshu, the wicked one”. Especially names of local Orisha or their greetings are hardly known. Many Yorùbá do not know how to pronounce them or make up other meanings for òríkí. Dialect versions exist, like “Yorùbá” and “Yòrùbá”, or “Oògùn” and “Òògùn”. I learned that more variants are in use, but only one became the official standard.

Yes, there is a standard, and there are variants. The reason why it seems harder today is that the orthography hasn’t been sternly enforced. The language isn’t taught in schools anymore, so you’ll likely get even more divergent dialects and forms as time goes on. Hopefully, our effort goes some way to deal with some of these issues.

I also realized, while studying the Ifá corpus, that Yorùbá has lost so much of its language over time. There are several words and terms in the odù ifá that are no longer used in contemporary language. There are some words whose meaning I don’t know, words or phrases you’d never hear in common usage. So, in the case of “ọ̀dàrà”, I’d more likely err towards “Èṣù, one who makes wonderful/fascinating things”. But even that is likely wrong, because the etymology of the word is now almost lost to us. And there are many other words like that.

One of the things I intend to work on in 2018 is a crowdsourced dictionary of Yorùbá, a multimedia one like where we can pool the knowledge base of the Yorùbá citizenry to document our language and all its variants. You’d be surprised how much more you can learn when you listen to people from different parts and persuasions.

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The typical Yorùbá literature available today on the Nigerian market was written in the 1960s or 1970s. Often without diacritics, or just when necessary – what makes them kind of useless for language students who should train the pronunciation. I would love to have some of these books in re-editions! Your father Ọlátúbọ̀sún Ọládàpọ̀ is a well-known Nigerian author and cultural entrepreneur, so I guess you could get the copyrights for novels like “Ògún Lákáayé”. Wouldn’t it be a great project to publish this in contemporary, correct Yorùbá orthography? I like the „Left page English, right page foreign language“ kind of books to study…

It’s actually a good idea, the play. A while ago, I tried to do a translation of the play into English, but stopped when I realized that some of the parts of the play can’t translate well into another culture. So an adaptation will work better, with changes made to some of the characters, scenes, and dialogue. Also, to take some liberty in criticizing the author with whom I’m intimately familiar, I think the play didn’t break new grounds, as a piece of literary drama. It seemed to have played it safe with the a familiar story. Compare it to a play like Death and the King’s Horsemen, for instance, and you’ll see what I mean. The handling of the poetry, the conflicts, and the resolutions, are very different. It will be nice to be able to rework it, in English and Yorùbá, but with a couple of modest and sometimes radical changes.

But to your point, yes, I’ve noticed, while reading books like Ògbójú Ọdẹ, for instance, by D.O. Fágúnwà, that the orthography is quite different. There were a lot of liberties taken with tone marks on nasals and on mid tone vowels. It would be nice to be able to re-do those works in modern orthography, without any changes to any other part of the work itself. Even the Yorùbá bible is due for a modern re-write.

The problem, I think, with the printing presses of those days was that it needed extra work to place the diacritics in the right places. So the authors just simply omitted that, and, often, inserted it by hand in the final print, which was then mass-produced. So you see a book like Egúngun Among the Ọ̀yọ́ Yorùbá by S. O. Babáyẹmí which has, right on the cover, hand-inserted diacritics on the vowels. Same for inside the book. I guess one can say that technology hasn’t been great for African languages for a very long time. Microsoft Word, and Google, only took it up from there.

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I am looking forward to this new book project! It also reminds me on another article I wanted to work on… Yorùbá language keeps us busy! I just want to add that the Yorùbá Melody Audio Phrasebook is licensed under Creative Commons Copyrights. People are free to share the files and can make them publicly accessible on their own websites, homepages of Orisha associations, language institutes or play them in their radio shows or podcasts. As long as the use is not commercial and they give appropriate credit - and mention our two websites below. The course is made to be shared in the community and give people a first impression of the original language.

Yes, I agree. There is a lot of work to be done, and I look forward to being of help in a number of different ways. Thank you for the initiative, and for all the sleepless nights put in to ensure that the end result is as good as it can be.

I wish that people worldwide enjoy the course as much as I did, while I was working on it. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the high art of passive learning. Repeated listening gets the phrases into your brain. Is there something better than an Audio Course for a tonal language?

I have come around to understand that this is a very effective way to learn a language (though it’s hard to listen to my own voice after a while). I hope it encourages even more people not just to learn Yorùbá but to make visits to Nigeria, interact with these important cultural and religious spaces, and undergo an immersive experience.

Have fun, and we are always happy about hearing back from our listeners and readers!