Music in African culture has a more important role than in Western cultures. In many African cultures music is used as a form of communication. It also plays an important role in religious events. Yoruba tribesmen worship the god of thunder in the Shango ritual. In Trinidad and Tobago music plays a pivotal role in African religions such as Orisha and Spiritual Baptist.
Musical instruments are varied and comprise drums, rattles, bells and any other items that can carry a rhythm. For example, the bottle and spoon are sometimes used as musical instruments at informal gatherings.
In Trinidad and Tobago African drums are used in churches, orchestras, dances and festivals. There are different types of drums such as the bougarabou, djembe, dun dun and talking drum. The bougarabou, which originated on the Ivory Coast, has a deep bass, rich full tone, and is played like a conga. It can carry the whole bass accompaniment. The dun dun is a double or single headed bass drum. It is played with sticks, wool covered beaters and the hand. The dondo or talking drum originated in West Africa. It is held under the arm and struck with a curved stick, while simultaneously squeezing the ropes to change the pitch.
The Djembe drum originated in Guinea, West Africa, and is played traditionally in countries such as Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Senegal. It is considered a magical drum with powers to transport people into other worlds when played well. It is referred to as a healing drum because of its powers when played by master drummers. It has a wide variation of sound which has made it an important instrument in the percussion section of many bands. The djembe is always hand-carved from a solid piece of wood and headed with a goatskin. Originally, materials like cane, leather and wood were used for the rings and ropes, but today these are made from iron rods and synthetic rope.
The Kalimba or thumb piano (also called mbira or likembe) is a plucked idiophone unique to Africa. It is used widely throughout the continent, and is commonly played as an accompaniment to song, but in some areas it is used for purely instrumental music. Kalimbas are used in festivals, weddings and other major events, as well as daily life. After work in the evening, Africans sit in a circle, tell stories, sing and play the kalimba. The kalimba is also used to pass the time on long journeys on foot.
Rattles are commonly known in Trinidad and Tobago as “chac-chac” and, like drums, are used in churches, orchestras, dances and festivals. Rattles are mainly made from the gutted fruit of the calabash (gourd) tree which is scraped, sanded and varnished or painted. Beads and/or seeds are placed inside the instrument. It is these beads or seeds that make the rattling sound when the rattle is shaken. There are several types of rattles such as gourd rattles, round rattles, rattle sere ileke and shekeres.