This is a list and review of publications on Orisha drumming and singing I have read. It is an overview on books and musical notations, mostly on batá drumming and Cuban Orisha songs, available on the market today, for the olorisha and percussionists interested into the music. If you have any recommendations for publications to add, please drop a note! A dupe, gracias!

amanda villepastour, bata drumming book, ayan, orisha image

Amanda Villepastour (ed.): The Yorùbá God of Drumming. Transatlantic Perspectives on the Wood that Talks. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2015.

Àyàn, in Cuba written Añá, is the Orisha of the Yorùbá (bàtá) drums. This book contains articles of more than a dozen authors, many of them you will also find in this list with their own publications. People involved into one of the many branches of Orisha religion, whether in Nigeria or in the diaspora, share their thoughts, studies and stories on Yorùbá drumming. Villepastour leads us to Ògbomòṣó to meet one of the last Àyàn families who is still into Orisha worship and has not converted to Islam. Kevin M. Delgado writes about the Iyesá drums from Matanzas, Katherine Hagedorn speaks about Ochún and Añá and aspects of gender, there are also articles on Añá in Venezuela and Brazil. Debrah L.Klein, Kenneth Schweitzer, John Amira and many others share their unique perspectives and personal stories in captivating essays. This book brings together people from all over the world, whose work is dedicated to the strengthening of Yorùbá culture and its drumming traditions. Hardcover bound, perfect layout, great design, cover illustration by Akinjide Baruwa, this book’s a beautiful work of art and literature. Published only a few months ago this is a must have for the library of every batalero!

Amanda Villepastour: Ancient Text Messages of the Yorùbá Bàtá Drum. Cracking the Code. SOAS Musicology Series, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, 2010. 

This is the first academic study of the Yorùbá bàtá’s communication technology and the coded language behind what we in the Western world would hear as pure rhythm or music. It analyzes in detail how the drum talks and spoken Yorùbá language is transferred to the musical instrument. It introduces the reader to the Nigerian bàtá drum ensembles and their performance and relates the drum to the religious contexts. Villepastour also studied the Ẹnà bàtá, a kind of secret language or code-talking only bàtá drummers understand. The study is well-structured, has a nice layout and is easy to read. If it would not sound so odd in the context of Orisha worship I would call this book the bible for bataleros. It comes with an audio CD of lots of examples how oríkì, Yorùbá praise poems, are played on the drum. These examples are also written as musical transcriptions! On the recording they are spoken and played by Rabíù Àyándòkun from the village Ẹ̀rìn-Ọ̀sun near the city of Ọ̀ṣogbo. Definitely the best book on the market today on Nigerian bàtá, which is the source of the more popular Cuban batá style. Every batá drummer should have read this book.

bata drumming, books, orisha image, yoruba book, oru seco, oru cantado

Adrian Coburg: Toques Especiales/Oru Seco. Bata Scores. 5th revised edition, Iyalodde, 2004.

Swiss musician, olorisha and omo Añá Adrian Coburg, iba’e, published together with Cuban batalero Julian Davalos a series of handwritten books with percussion scores on batá drumming. I guess they did not leave out one single toque of the Havana repertoire. They recorded accompanying CDs, which seem to be no longer available on the website. The notations are great, as you can find even esoteric toques in the books, like the Oro a Eggun or the Toques del Cierre, and not just the Oro Seco like in all the others. He chose to write them all in a very professional style, using e.g. dal segno al coda signs, sometimes it gets a bit complicated if you are not trained in reading sheets of music. Highly recommended. The liner notes say Coburg was "authorized" by the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional de Cuba. Despite the two mentioned books above, Coburg also published following books on Cuban percussion and songs that can be bought online on a website dedicated to his work: Oru Cantado; Percusion Afro Cubana Vol 1: Musica Folklorica; Percusion Afro Cubana Vol 2: Musica Popular; Rezos; Cantos Afro Cubanos; Cantos Especiales Volume 1-4; Cantos a Eggun; Cantos a Osain; See the website

John Amira, Steven Cornelius: The Music of Santeria. Traditional Rhythms of the Batá Drums. White Cliffs Media, Reno, 1999.

I think this was the first popular book that gave a broad community of percussionists worldwide access to batá drumming scores. At least for me in Europe it was the only written source available when I started playing batá around 2004. Cornelius transcribed the rhythms of the Oro Seco from John Amira, an American who studied with Cuban drummers in New York. It is the style of Havana batá. I especially like their transcription because it is the only one that also features written notes on “relleno sounds”: taps, or touches as they call them, that are just played to keep a kind of flow in the hands without producing a sound on the drumheads. For beginners this is very useful. Later these “notes” will appear naturally, but it is good to learn them at the beginning when you are just starting. Sometimes they help you to keep the correct timing or you can use these small tricks to master more complicated rhythms. They also present “clave-nized” alternate versions of e.g. Ozun or Inle toques, which I think would not be necessary. The clave is an important thing in Afrocuban music, but in batá, which also comes from oral poetry, it is alright if there are some toques without being bond to this structure. The book gives you profound information on the technique of playing and every rhythm comes with a small chapter of analysis on the actual performance or its history and contemporary changes. Great book.

Don Skoog, Alejandro Carvajal Guerra: Batá Drumming. The Oru Seco. The Instruments, the Rhythms, and the People Who Play Them. The Contemporary Music Project, Oak Park, 2010.

Batalero Don Skoog transcribed the Oro Seco rhythms from his Cuban teacher Alejandro Carvajal Guerra, who was trained by Papo Angarica. Carvajal has taught at the ISA, Instituto Superior de Arte, and now teaches at the ENA, the Escuela Nacional de Arte. He is a renowned professor for folkloric traditions and teaches the youngest generation of professional Cuban percussionists. Half of the book is dedicated to the cultural context of batá drumming and gives basic information on the slave trade, folkloric traditions and Santeria, followed by chapters on the musical structure of batá drumming and problems of transcribing African “time-feelings” and odd meters. In this sense the book offers an approach to the rhythms, that have to be studied anyhow listening to good recordings to get the right swing, whether it is notated in 6/8 or 4/4. It includes the Meta de Chango in the Oro Seco, which other books don't, the "1" in Obatalá is where others notate the "4" - a typical topic for discussion - so it is a good book to add to your transcriptions.

Michael Spiro, Kevin Repp, Vanessa Lindberg (ed.): Bata Rhythms from Matanzas, Cuba. Transcriptions of the Oru Seco. Kabiosile, San Francisco, 2007.

This book is part of a package from Kabiosile productions. It comes with a set of DVDs, one is a complete recording of the Oro Seco as notated in the book, played by three drummers like they would do in a ceremony for the Orisha, plus additional interviews and other material. The other DVD isolates every single drum in the recording and gives you the chance to listen to the single drum rhythm, broken down drum by drum, Okonkolo, Itotele and Iyá. It is also the only book on the Matanzas tradition of batá, which differs from the Havana style. An additional sound is added there on the chacha head, the campana sound, and of course toques and their order are different to the capital’s style. A profound study for everyone who wants to get into the Matanzas traditions. Kabiosile productions also sells other videos, field recordings, of Orisha ceremonies in cabildos of Matanzas.

bata drumming, santeria music, kenneth schweitzer, santeria, yoruba, orisha book

Kenneth Schweitzer: The Artistry of Afro-Cuban Batá Drumming. Aesthetics, Transmission, Bonding and Creativity. Caribbean Studies Series, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2013.

This book is the best source if you want to read about Cuban batá drumming. Kenneth Schweitzer is a musician and musicologist and this publication is based on his PhD thesis. Exhaustive and thrilling musical transcriptions on the toque Ñongo give the reader the opportunity of comparing different styles from various batá groups to each other. Where does tradition end and improvisation start? What is allowed, what considered “forbidden”? What’s the influence of modern Rumba on batá drumming? Interesting topics for bataleros. Schweitzer also provides an overview on the socio-cultural context with chapters on the fraternity of Añá drummers, learning techniques, performance styles and the rhythm repertoire. Apart from this he is introducing the reader to the work of batalero Pancho Quinto. A must read.

María Teresa Vélez: Drumming for the Gods. The Life and Times of Felipe Garcia Villamil, Santero, Palero, and Abakuá. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2000.

Vélez is an ethnomusicologist and met Felipe Garcia Villamil in New York while doing research on Santeria traditions. For many years she studied batá music with him and they became friends. She organized his stories into a chronological life sequence, as she explains in the prologue, and the outcome is this unique biography of a batá drummer from the Matanzas lineage. The book is divided into three parts. Part One, learning the trade, speaks of Villamil’s personal family background, the three “doors” to his house (Lucumí, Palo Monte, Abakuá) and Matanzas traditions. Part Two describes his life as a musician during the time of Revolution, performance practice and his craftsmanship building drums and religious objects. Part Three is about his life in the diaspora, the U.S., and how tradition changes or is rebuilt. The book is written with a deep respect to the Afrocuban traditions and Sr Villamil. It touches the readers heart and gives you a sense of the Afrocuban religious life. It doesn’t read like an anthropological study, it is more written in the style of a novel, telling a fascinating and captivating story. A must read.

Umi Vaughan, Carlos Aldama: Carlos Aldama’s Life in Batá. Cuba, Diaspora and the Drum. Indiana University Press, 2012.

Carlos Aldama is an outstanding figure in the world of Afrocuban percussion. He studied batá with Jesus Pérez, who was a student of Akilapa Pablo Roche. Aldama was musical director of the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional, toured and recorded with many groups. Umi Vaughan is an anthropologist publishing about African Diaspora culture. John Mason wrote the foreword. The book starts with a timeline, that has to be criticized: 1400s - Batá developed among the Oyo people (I would love to read the source of this information). Second entry is already the year 1830 – First set of consecrated batá drums created in Cuba. I wonder what happened in those 430 years to batá in Africa - it seems like there is no history on this continent. After several timeline entries on Cuban batá history the next page tells us 1975 - Umi Vaughan is born. Hm. Some titles of the book’s chapters, like Learning My Trade, Batá in the Revolution or Diaspora sound familiar after having read the book on Villamil. Texts on batá-drumming in general or the Cuban history are written by Vaughan, the biggest part of the book seems to be a transcription from interviews with Aldama. These chapters read like an autobiography and use first-person perspective in a rather conversational language. The book gives the reader first-hand information on the batá scene in Havana, the folks involved, and includes links to audiofiles (a complete Oro Seco played by the authors, with a very high-pitched Iyá drum). Despite the book has some minor issues I recommend reading this book as a contribution to the image of batá drumming and to hear the voice of Carlos Aldama.

cantos lucumi, orin orisa, john mason, yoruba

Thomas Altmann: Cantos Lucumí a los Orichas. Descarga, Brooklyn, New York, 3rd revised edition, 1998. 

Altmann is a musician, percussionist and babaláwo and regularly publishes remarkable articles on Yorùbá related themes. This is the Real Book for Orisha songs from Cuba for the professional musicians, singers and choirs. It contains 275 songs in complete musical notation. For Altmann as a studied drummer the proper relation of the melody to the clave-pattern was very important. The lyrics are written in Lukumí as they are performed in Cuban ceremonies. Every song also comes with names of the batá rhythms which usually accompany the singing and some pages of useful basic information on the Regla de Ocha. Highly recommended. It can be bought online at, a small business supporting independent artists and publishing re-issues of rare educational material. Altmann also runs his own website with interesting articles in German language.

John Mason: Orin Òrìṣà. Songs for Selected Heads. Yoruba Theological Archminstry. Revised Edition, 1997. 

This impressive 450-page book is a very inspiring source. Mason re-translated Cuban Lukumí Orisha songs into Yorùbá language. This is something everyone goes through who is into drumming batá in the Cuban style and starts learning Yorùbá. For the difficulties involved in this task see the blog entry “The Incomplete Yorùbá Guide to Lukumí”. Some translations remain highly speculative, also keep in mind the political aspect of this work while reading, otherwise the book is a jewel. It offers good descriptions of the Orisha focusing on traditions in Yorùbáland and comparing it to the Caribbean diaspora. This book has no musical notations, it is just about the lyrics and meanings of the songs. The reader learns a lot about Orisha and their different aspects, various praise names and possible "caminos". All of the songs are written in Yorùbá with dotted letters and diacritical marks and its English translations. A must-have. 

orisha, bata drums, yoruba, akn euba

Debra L. Klein: Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global. Artists, Culture Brokers, and Fans. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2007.

The author is an anthropologist who has been researching in Nigeria with performance artists for more than twenty years. Her book is about the contemporary bàtá drum scene in Nigeria, where today’s social and economic situation led to certain changes and innovations within the traditional Àyàn lineages. She worked with Làmídì Àyànkúnlé from the village Ẹ̀rìn-Ọ̀sun near the city of Ọ̀ṣogbo and dedicates a chapter on the influence Susanne Wenger and her colleagues had on the development of art and culture. The oversea markets for bàtá drummers and matters of globalization play an important role in the book, e.g. when she discusses how the bàtá drum is used in pop-cultural contexts or how Yorùbá drummers are being promoted outside of Nigeria. Debra L.Klein runs a Youtube channel where she published some great videos of traditional Yorùbá bàtá drumming.

Akin Euba: Yoruba Drumming. The Dùndún Tradition. Bayreuth African Studies Series. Bayreuth University, Bayreuth, 1990.

The author Akin Euba is a Nigerian composer, he studied in London and Los Angeles composition and ethnomusicology and lectured on various universities in Nigeria and abroad. This book is not on bàtá but on dùndún drumming. As these Yorùbá talking drum traditions are so closely related I mention it here. Also because it has more than 540 pages and is an incredible piece of work. Euba describes the social background, speaks about the musicians’ training, the construction of the drums, the performance techniques, various speech styles and the roles of the different instruments in the ensemble. He analyzes four drum events in detail, a ceremony for Ọbàtálá, a burial drumming and praise drumming for herbalists and the king of Ẹdẹ. The book contains many musical transcriptions and translations of drum poetry, truly a unique insight that gives a very complete view on the Yorùbá talking drum. Highly recommended.

Mobolanle Ebunoluwa Sotunsa: Yorùbá Drum Poetry. Stillwatersstudios, London, 2009.

This book is published in London, but the way how it is bound and printed this is definitely a Nigerian production. I do not know if it is available anywhere outside of Naija, I got my copy in Ile-Ife. The book gives many examples of drum poetry. The author transcribed drumming into Yorùbá and translated it into English, which is a great resource for everyone studying the language, or the drumming. Some of his examples include funeral poetry from the palace drummers of Oyo, chants for Ogun by drummers in Ede, Obatala drum poetry from Apomu, royal drum salutations for the Oba Adetoyese Oyenigi etc. The book explains basics about oral history and stylistic features of drum poetry. There are no musical notations or direct references to drums or details of drumming techniques. This is a book about the poetry involved in drumming and thus quite unique.

los tambores bata, lazaro pedroso, yoruba

Bárbara Balbuena Gutiérrez: Las celebraciones rituales festivas en la Regla de Ocha. Centro de Investigación y Desarollo de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello, La Habana, 2003.

The author is head of the department of folkloric dances at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), Havana’s art university. As a researcher she has published many books on Afrocuban folkloric traditions focusing on performance aspects. She is also an experienced contemporary and folkloric dancer. This book speaks about the ritual celebrations of Santeria and describes in detail how a tambor/wemilere is prepared, which role the batá drums play and explains the structure of the rituals involved. She also writes about the violin pa Ochún, toques de güiro, etc. Otherwise this book is summarizing other Cuban publications, like in the section where she speaks about the musical instruments involved (Fernando Ortiz) or the Orisha dance steps (Graciela Chao Carbonero). But it is a nice overview on the topic and helped me to understand details of the tambor ceremonies.

Fernando Ortiz: Los Instrumentos de la Musica Afrocubana. Los tambores batá. Instituto Cubano del Libro, La Habana, 1995.

This is the all-time classic book on Cuban batá drumming by the anthropologist Ortiz (1881-1969) whose work deeply influenced the history of La Regla de Ocha and the Afrocuban identity. We all know his book “La africania de la música afrocubana” and “Los instrumentos de la música afrocubana” (and the great re-edition). Parts of his work have been published in Cuba as small cheap booklets, like this one on batá drums, sold for a few pesos in Havana's book stores (not at Obispo). It is a great work Ortiz did, preserving as many details as he could get, notated accurately - like a criminologist. Interesting also the images of old batá drums, some of them resemble the Ijebu-style of Nigerian bàtá I think. He writes e.g. that for the heads of a batá drum only goat hide of sacrificied animals is to be used, all other animals are strictly forbidden for spiritual reasons. Nowadays most Añá drums have cow hide on them. This book is another must-read for the batalero interested into the history of Cuban batá drums!

Marcos Branda-Lacerda: Kultische Trommelmusik der Yoruba in der Volksrepublik Benin. Bata-Sango und Bata-Egungun in den Städten Pobè und Sakété. Beiträge zur Ethnomusikologie, Band 19, Verlag der Musikalienhandlung Karl Dieter Wagner, Hamburg, 1998.

Marcos Branda-Lacerda is a Brazilian musicologist who did a study on Yorùbá batá drums in Benin which was published in German language, I guess this was his PhD. The CD to this book is available online (Yoruba Drums from Benin, West Africa, by Smithsonian Folkways). His musical analysis is very complete and the book comes with lots of notations. It is a musical study of course, written in scientific language, about the structure of the music and not about the broader cultural context. For me the most interesting part was getting to know a bàtá tradition that is hardly known. The batá drums of Benin Yorùbá traditions are very small and different to the better known traditions from Oyo. The author analyses Egungun (Ako, Alujo, Kiriboto, Ogogo) and Ṣango (Ako, Kete, Oba Koso, Omenega, Lade Lade, Oke, Ajagunan) ceremonial rhythms. Listen to the Album online, it is sold on all the major platforms. 

Christiane Hayashi, Lázaro Pedroso Ogun Tola: Obbedi. Cantos a los Orishas. Traducción e Historia. Songs to the Orishas. Translations and Stories. 2013

Lázaro Pedroso Ogun Tola: Obbedi. Cantos a los Orishas: Traducción e Historia. Edicion Artex, La Habana, 1995.

Christiane Hayashi translated Lázaro Pedroso’s book into English. The first mentioned title is written in Lukumí, English and Spanish, self-published by her and can be downloaded as an e-book. The second book is a hardcopy published in La Habana and is written in Lukumí and Spanish. Lázaro Pedroso is a well-known and respected Santero, Lukumí singer (Akpwón) and scholar, who dedicated his life to the study of Afrocuban traditions. He released several CDs with songs for the Orisha. The title of the book speaks of “translations”, I would rather call it poetic interpretations of what remained of Yorùbá language in Cuba. E.g. the Lukumí “moforibale”, from Yorùbá “mo foríbalẹ̀”, literally “I put the head down to the ground” (traditional saluting in front of the Orisha) is translated as “grant (the good) to this land/a esta tierra concédale (el bien)”. Without a doubt this is a wonderful opportunity for all the people who want to know about the meanings of Lukumí songs from the perspective of an insider of the religion and read some of the patakines, the Lukumí stories of the Orisha.


muraina oyelami, bata drumming, tambores bata, santeria, yoruba

Muraina Oyelami: Yorùbá Bàtá Music. Iwalewa-Haus, 1991.

Nigerian artist Muraina Oyelami published probably the first book with notations on Yorùbá bàtá drumming. He introduces the reader to the drum language and describes how Yorùbá vowels or syllables get translated into drum strokes. He illustrates the basic playing techniques, the accompanying rhythm instruments and then gives notations on approx. 100 pages. His notation is very simple and needs lots of space, see the image above. Oyelami introduces symbols for the various sounds or sound combinations on the left and right hand. Every eighth note of a 6/8 or 4/4 meter he draws a symbol into a small box, a system (Time Unit Box System) known for beginners in percussion who cannot yet read classical notations. It is interesting that the slap sound on the boca/enu (called ojú-òjò in Yorùbá) does not exist in Cuba’s style of batá drumming. Oyelami transcribes the rhythms Ilú Ṣàngó (Afaṣẹ́gbòjò, Yannijẹ, Alùsì), Gbàmù (Ẹjá, Dìgbòlugi, Wòrú), Ijó Oge (Iràwọ̀, l`àgbà, Ẹjá) and Elésèé, and includes the Yorùbá texts rendered on the drums. He also published a second book in the same series with notations on dùndún, the other more widespread Yorùbá talking drum.