A Critical Review of Sotunsa’s “Features of Talking Drum Poetry”

Literature Review, 2015

17 Pages, Grade: 70%





The Summary of the Thesis

The Critical Analysis of Findings and Affirmations in Sotunsa (2005); Features of Talking Drum Poetry




This paper is critically reviews Sotunsa’s (2005), “Features of Talking Drum Poetry,” a doctoral thesis submitted to English Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan. To present this paper in a simpler form attempt has been made to divide it into sections. Section one discusses introduction which is the background to the paper, while section two (the abstract) discusses the paper’s goals. The third section covers the summary of the thesis. Section four as well is a critical review of affirmations made by the author. We considered some scholars’ views on these affirmations and looked at their genuineness. We made assumptions to rectify some views likewise we made comment to credit the genuineness of author’s arguments where it is necessary. In the last section, we do the summary and make some recommendations in support of author’s arguments established in the last chapter of the thesis. Our goal, in this paper, is to do a constructive criticism on Sotunsa’s doctoral thesis basically, it is for academic purposes.


Yoruba oral poetry is a living and dynamic verbal art. It is meant to be sung, chanted, intoned in performance in the presence of an audience at a given social, religious, cultural, political or informal occasion. Its performance is usually accompanied with drum, music and dance… (Ọlajubu, 1981: 21, alluded by Sotunsa, 2005)

As stated in the above excerpts, the aesthetic of oral poetry cannot be over emphasised. It is a tradition which cannot be neglected whenever general discussions are being made on Yoruba literature. Evidence from literatures have shown that Ọlatunji (1984), Finnegan (1970), Abimbọla (1968 and 1969) Babalọla (1966), Ọlajubu (1982), Ọlabọde (1981), Ọbasa (1921), Olukoju (1994), Yemitan (1963 and 1970) among others have really discussed the features, structures and importance of Yoruba oral literature. Despite the fact that scholars have worked and are still working on non-verbal aspect of oral poetry (i.e. drum), the aesthetic of it still stands out. It is on this note that this paper chooses to review the work of Sotunsa Mobolanle who worked on Features Of Talking Drum Poetry so as to explore and unfold some aesthetics of drum poetry discussed by the scholar. Also to comment critically on the findings of the author.

The Summary of the Thesis

Before the detail of the thesis it is very much important to give the summary of its abstract. The thesis discusses the stylistic features and functional significance of drum poetry. This is shown by the author’s statement made in the abstract.

The study reveals that talking drum poetry, like its oral counterpart requires a special skill and it is realisable only on actual performance. Although it shares many features with vocal form of poetry, it possesses its own unique stylistic attributes and aesthetic functionality. p. vii – viii.

This statement reveals that the author examines the talking drum as a unique poetic mode of its own which requires a special analysis like other oral poetry being a speech, a chant and a song mode. To establish her arguments, the author discusses her findings under six chapters;

In the first chapter, the author states the discussion base on argument whether traditional oral poetry should be considered poetry. To support her claims, the author quotes different scholars who are in support of the claim that traditional oral poetry is truly poetry on its own. Among the scholars she cites include Aderemi Bamikunle (1985:48), Ọlajubu (1981: 71), Emovon (1981: 205) and Finnegan (1992: 26). She further gives explanations on the features of traditional poetry which include the impact of performance art, the audience, the use of musical instruments and the theme of traditional African poetry. She gives evidence from different notable scholars like Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, Kofi Awoonor, Chinua Achebe and others. Also in this chapter, the author discusses the place of the talking drum in Indigenous African oral poetry. Under this sub topic, the author reveals the scholars’ views on the status of talking drum in African poetry. For example, she discusses Olukoju (1978: 83) which considered drum poetry as an aspect of speech mode of oral poetry. She proceeds by reviewing the view of Opefeyitimi (1995: 156) which considered the role of drum poetry as a lieutenant in Yoruba Orature Performance (YOP). The Nketia (1967), Akin Euba (1990) and different scholars view on the drum poetry were also reviewed. The author at this point makes a stand that the drum poetry role in oral poetry is beyond an auxiliary or lieutenant for the fact that it has its own unique features which made it stand as a separate mode of an oral poetry like speech, chant and song mode. Lastly, in this chapter, the author explains her theoretical framework and the reason why she chooses to use semiological approach, functionalism, ethno-musicology and models/theories of communication.

In chapter two, the author continues reviewing the previous related works to her study. She looks into the work of various scholars like Adetoyese Laoye (1959) Echezona (1963), Euba (1960), Adegbite (1994), Ajayi (1987), Esinlokun (1997) among others on the nature, forms, functions and importance of drum poetry.

In chapter three, the author discusses the style in Yoruba drum poetry. Under this sub topic, the author makes a clarification by saying that drum poetry is membronic verbal communication and should be treated as such.

It is verbal communication in the sense that the poetry can be analyzed linguistically. In addition it possesses its own unique style and can be differentiated from other forms of poetry, vocal or written. (p. 72)

Among the styles and aesthetics which the author recognises are the rhythmic and the intonation patterning of sounds, the musical nature of the poetry, the variation in pitch, the pauses, the vowel clustering, the gliding, the rhythmic elongation and the ambiguity nature of the poetry.

The variation in pitch, pauses, and vowel clustering and gliding as well as rhythmic elongation, distinguishes drum speech from actual speech and endows it with a unique style of its own (p. 77)

To actualise her findings, the author makes use of computerized graphs to show the frequency of soundwave length of some selected texts. Two examples from these texts are:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

At the end of this text, the author observes that there are more evidence of overtones, rhythmic elongation, variation in pitch, pauses, vowel clustering in drum versions of the tested texts compared to their voiced versions. Three criteria used by the author in the test include the pitch[1], the timbre[2] and the loudness[3] of the tone. Having explained these unique features, the author discloses;

Drum poetry by virtue of its distinct style should earn recognition as a unique form of poetry by critics of indigenous literature, oral literature in particular.

(p. 99)

Chapter four comprises the application of the theoretical framework and theories explained in chapter two. The chapter, also, is the continuation of the style in Yoruba poetry, started in chapter three. The author here applies the literary and semiotic approach to analyse some Yoruba drum poetry. The data analysed are performances of drum poetry at different places among of which are;

i. a performance of dundun drum set at the palace of Ọba Adetoyese Oyeniyi Odugbemi, the Olufi of Gbọ̀ngán in which the palace drummers rendered the praise poetry (oríkì) of the kind.
ii. also, the drum performance at the funeral party of Adigun Adele Làísì at Gbọ̀ngán town, Ọ̀ṣun State which was led by Mustafa Ayanniyi Ayanbode.

The author in these two samples transcribes the drum poetry into verbal, she gives the English translation and also does the critical analysis using semiological approach to assign meaning.

Before she rounds off this chapter, the author observes that the drum poetries for deities are mostly have fixed rhythms associated with concerned deity. One of the prominent examples used by the author is the Ogun drum performance (ìlú ògún) which was performed by one of her informants, Mr Jimoh Alayande.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Modern trends in Yoruba drum poetry is what the author discusses in the fifth chapter. The author here looks at the impact of drum poetry in contemporary popular music by saying that;

It is not surprising; therefore, that Yoruba drum poetry is easily integrated into popular music, as they are twin arts, (p. 174).


[1] Pitch: a term use in music which set a part or note into a particular musical scale

[2] Timbre: also called “tone colour”, this is a property of sounds that distinguish it from other sound of the same pitch and volume.

[3] Loudness: This refers to the volume or amplitude of sound.

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A Critical Review of Sotunsa’s “Features of Talking Drum Poetry”
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Luqman Kiaribee (Author), 2015, A Critical Review of Sotunsa’s “Features of Talking Drum Poetry”, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/343777


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