Ashiko The Hourglass Drum of West African Music

The Ashiko drum, also known as the hourglass drum, holds a significant place in the rich tapestry of West African music and culture. This traditional percussion instrument has a storied history and plays a vital role in various ceremonial, musical, and personal settings.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the origins of the Ashiko drum, explore how it is played and the techniques involved, examine the different types of Ashiko drums, and discover its diverse uses, benefits, and how to choose the right one.

Key Takeaways:

  • Ashiko drum is a traditional hourglass-shaped drum originating from West Africa, known for its deep and resonant sound.
  • It is played using various techniques, such as slapping, tapping, and using the fingertips, and is used for traditional ceremonies, musical performances, and personal therapy.
  • Playing the Ashiko drum has physical, mental, and community-building benefits, making it a great instrument for anyone to learn and play.

What Is Ashiko Drum?

What Is Ashiko Drum? - Ashiko The Hourglass Drum of West African Music

Credits: Goldenscissors.Info – Michael Hill

The Ashiko Drum is a traditional percussion instrument originating from West Africa, commonly used in traditional African music and rituals.

Often carved from a single piece of solid wood, the Ashiko Drum features a large, tapered body with a goatskin or other animal hide stretched over its wide, open mouth. It is distinguished by its deep, resonant tones and is played with bare hands. Historically, the Ashiko Drum was used in various rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations, with its powerful rhythms and beats serving both communal and spiritual purposes. Today, it continues to enrich the soundscape of traditional African music, adding an essential element to cultural performances.

What Are The Origins Of Ashiko Drum?

The origins of the Ashiko Drum can be traced back to the Yoruba culture of West Africa, where it served as a significant musical instrument with deep historical roots.

The Ashiko Drum holds immense cultural and historical significance within the Yoruba community, playing a vital role in various traditional ceremonies and rituals. Its evolution and enduring presence have made a lasting impact on the music and cultural heritage of West Africa. This iconic drum has also influenced diverse musical genres worldwide, embodying the rich traditions and artistic expressions of the Yoruba people, reflecting their spirituality, rhythm, and communal identity. The Ashiko Drum exemplifies the intricate fusion of history, tradition, and artistry that continues to resonate through the annals of time and across continents.

How Is Ashiko Drum Played?

Playing the Ashiko Drum involves employing various rhythmic techniques and hand drumming methods to produce resonant, melodic tones that characterize its traditional sound.

One fundamental technique employed in Ashiko drumming is the use of different hand positions to create a range of tones and rhythms. The dominant hand usually plays the base tone, while the non-dominant hand plays the higher tones and accents, creating a dynamic and lively sound.

Rhythmic patterns in Ashiko drumming are deeply rooted in African and Afro-Cuban traditions, with syncopated beats and complex polyrhythms that reflect the cultural significance of the instrument. This rhythmic complexity adds depth and richness to the music produced, captivating audiences with its pulsating energy and infectious groove.

What Are The Different Techniques Used In Playing Ashiko Drum?

The Ashiko Drum encompasses a diverse array of playing techniques, including open tones, slap tones, and bass tones, each contributing to the richness of its traditional sound.

Open tones, produced by striking the drumhead with the fingers or palms, create a resonant and melodious quality that forms the foundation of the rhythm.

Slap tones, achieved by using the fingertips to strike the edge of the drumhead, add sharp accents and dynamic variations to the music, contributing to the overall complexity and energy of the performance.

Bass tones, created by striking the center of the drumhead with a padded beater, provide a deep, reverberating undercurrent that anchors the composition and infuses it with a profound sense of rhythm and depth.

What Are The Different Types Of Ashiko Drum?

The Ashiko Drum comes in various types, including traditional, modern, and decorative variations, each distinguished by unique construction and aesthetic elements.

Traditional Ashiko Drums are typically crafted using traditional woodworking methods and feature natural skin drumheads for an authentic resonance. Modern Ashiko Drums may incorporate metal hardware for durability and synthetic drumheads for consistent sound quality. Decorative Ashiko Drums often showcase intricate hand-carved designs, vibrant patterns, and colorful finishes to add an artistic flair to the instrument. The size, shape, and materials used in construction can also vary, influencing the tone and playability of the drums.

Traditional Ashiko Drum

The traditional Ashiko Drum is characterized by its construction using animal skin, rope-tuned tensioning, and an authentic design that reflects its historical roots.

Crafted from a single piece of hardwood and covered on one end with a stretched hide, the traditional Ashiko Drum boasts a mesmerizing resonance that has captivated audiences for centuries. The animal skin amplifies the rich, warm tones, delivering a deeply authentic sound that resonates with the spirit of its African origins. The rope-tuned tensioning system allows for precise tuning adjustments, enabling musicians to create a diverse range of captivating rhythms that echo the traditional beats of West Africa.

With its timeless design, the Ashiko Drum serves as a cultural artifact, preserving the age-old traditions and rhythms of its heritage. The deep, resonant tones and distinctive construction make it a revered instrument for both ceremonial and performance purposes, adding a touch of historical significance to any musical ensemble. The Ashiko Drum exemplifies the enduring legacy of African percussion instruments, embodying the spirit of cultural preservation and artistic expression.

Modern Ashiko Drum

The modern Ashiko Drum incorporates synthetic materials, mechanical tuning systems, and contemporary design elements, offering a blend of tradition and innovation in its construction.

This traditional West African drum has undergone a contemporary reimagining that allows for enhanced durability and easier maintenance. The use of synthetic materials such as fiberglass or PVC provides a consistent tone and resilience to changes in humidity and temperature, making it ideal for diverse performance environments.

The integration of mechanical tuning systems enables precise adjustments to the drum’s pitch and tone, allowing for seamless adaptation to various musical settings and styles. The incorporation of modern design elements, such as sleek finishes and unique color options, further enhances the visual appeal of the Ashiko Drum, ensuring it stands out as a captivating instrument in any performance or collection.

Decorative Ashiko Drum

The decorative Ashiko Drum features ornate embellishments, intricate designs, and artistic detailing that enhance its visual appeal while maintaining its musical functionality.

Each Ashiko Drum is a masterpiece of artistic craftsmanship, featuring intricately carved patterns and decorative inlays that enrich its overall aesthetic. The use of exquisite woodwork and earth-toned finishes further accentuate its captivating beauty. The intricate detailing and fine craftsmanship displayed in every aspect of its construction make the Ashiko Drum a stunning objet d’art, blending artistic excellence with musical functionality.

The elaborate carvings and ornate motifs on the drum’s body are a testament to the skilled artisans who have poured their creativity into its creation. The intricate patterns and meticulous detailing transform each drum into a work of art that not only produces rhythmic melodies but also serves as a visual feast for the eyes, embodying the harmonious fusion of form and function.

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What Are The Uses Of Ashiko Drum?

The Ashiko Drum serves a multitude of purposes, including its integral role in traditional ceremonies, captivating musical performances, and therapeutic applications for personal well-being.

Within traditional African culture, the Ashiko Drum holds significance as it is often used in ceremonial rituals, such as weddings, funerals, and rites of passage, to infuse spiritual energy and rhythm into the proceedings. Its compelling beats and deep resonance elevate the ambiance, creating a connection between the participants and their ancestors.

In the realm of music, the Ashiko Drum enriches various performances, from vibrant cultural festivals to contemporary bands and fusion ensembles. Its versatile tones and dynamic rhythms contribute to the sensory tapestry of diverse musical compositions, adding an authentic and evocative dimension to the auditory experience.

The Ashiko Drum has found a place in personal wellness practices, aiding individuals in meditation, stress relief, and holistic healing. The rhythmic vibrations produced by the drum are believed to promote relaxation, balance energy, and induce a state of calm, making it a valuable tool for mindfulness and self-care.

Traditional Ceremonies

The Ashiko Drum holds significant cultural relevance, often featuring prominently in traditional ceremonies, rituals, and cultural celebrations as a symbol of heritage and spiritual expression.

Originating from the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, the Ashiko Drum plays an integral role in their cultural practices and religious ceremonies. It is often used to invoke ancestral spirits, promote unity within the community, and mark important milestones such as weddings and funerals. The rhythmic beats of the Ashiko Drum are believed to connect the physical and spiritual realms, creating a harmonious balance and fostering a sense of collective identity and pride.

Musical Performances

The Ashiko Drum enriches musical performances with its dynamic presence, often contributing to live music ensembles and providing rhythmic accompaniment that enhances the overall auditory experience.

With origins in West Africa, the Ashiko Drum has a long history of being an integral part of traditional and contemporary music. Its versatile sound and deep, resonant tones make it a favored choice among percussionists seeking to add depth and texture to their performances. Whether in a small acoustic setting or a large, high-energy ensemble, the Ashiko Drum’s rich timbre and rhythmic capabilities elevate the musical journey for both performers and audiences alike.

Personal Therapy

The Ashiko Drum is utilized for personal therapy, offering avenues for stress relief, mindfulness practices, and rhythmic expression that promote emotional well-being and relaxation.

Its traditional use in various African cultures for ceremonial and healing purposes has translated into modern therapeutic settings, incorporating its ability to induce a state of relaxation and promote mindfulness.

Incorporating the Ashiko Drum into mindfulness meditation practices allows individuals to focus on the rhythmic patterns, fostering a deeper sense of awareness and emotional release.

For those seeking to alleviate stress, the rhythmic nature of playing the Ashiko Drum can serve as a powerful outlet for emotional expression, aiding in the release of tension and promoting a sense of calmness and rejuvenation.

What Are The Benefits Of Playing Ashiko Drum?

Playing the Ashiko Drum offers a plethora of benefits, including physical exercise, stress relief, and the facilitation of community building through shared musical experiences.

Engaging in drumming with the Ashiko Drum provides a holistic workout, involving the upper body, core, and coordination. The rhythmic patterns and strikes enhance stamina, strength, and flexibility. The repetitive motions offer a calming effect, reducing stress and promoting relaxation. Participating in drum circles or group sessions fosters a sense of togetherness and belonging, encouraging community building and camaraderie.

Physical Exercise

Engaging in Ashiko Drumming provides an effective form of physical exercise, enhancing arm strength, coordination, and promoting cardiovascular health through rhythmic movements and active percussion.

Ashiko Drumming, an ancient West African drumming tradition, demands a powerful rhythmic movement of the arms and wrists, offering an exceptional workout for the upper body. This dynamic activity not only increases arm endurance, but also improves muscle coordination while playing the drum and maintaining a steady tempo. The energizing beats and intense body movements involved in Ashiko Drumming can significantly boost heart rate, contributing to improved cardiovascular fitness.

Stress Relief

The Ashiko Drum serves as a tool for stress relief, offering avenues for relaxation, therapeutic benefits, and expressive rhythmic activities that alleviate tension and promote mental well-being.

The rhythmic vibrations produced by playing the Ashiko Drum can have a calming effect on the mind, helping individuals to unwind and release pent-up stress. The repetitive motion of drumming creates a therapeutic rhythm that can soothe the nervous system, providing a sense of tranquility and aiding in stress reduction.

Engaging in expressive rhythmic activities with the Ashiko Drum can serve as a form of mindful meditation, allowing individuals to channel their emotions and express themselves non-verbally. This cathartic release can contribute to mental well-being by reducing anxiety and promoting emotional balance.

The Ashiko Drum’s unique combination of relaxation, therapeutic benefits, and expressive rhythmic activities makes it a powerful tool for stress relief and mental wellness.

Community Building

Playing the Ashiko Drum fosters community building through shared experiences, musical collaboration, and the establishment of cultural connections that transcend boundaries and promote inclusivity.

The Ashiko Drum has a long tradition of being used in communal gatherings to bring people together through the power of rhythm. Its rhythmic beats create a sense of unity and togetherness, encouraging individuals to connect and communicate non-verbally through music. This shared musical experience facilitates a deep sense of belonging and interconnectedness, breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of inclusivity and understanding among diverse groups of people. The Ashiko Drum plays a pivotal role in promoting cultural appreciation and understanding, creating a platform for individuals to embrace and celebrate different traditions and customs.

How To Choose The Right Ashiko Drum?

Selecting the right Ashiko Drum involves considering factors such as material, size, sound quality, and price to ensure a suitable match for individual preferences and musical requirements.

One of the crucial aspects to consider when selecting an Ashiko Drum is the material. The choice of wood can significantly impact the sound and resonance of the drum. Different sizes of Ashiko Drums produce varying tones, so it’s essential to choose the size that best suits your musical needs. Balancing the sound quality with the price is vital to ensure you get a drum that meets your expectations without exceeding your budget.


The material composition of an Ashiko Drum plays a crucial role in its overall quality, with options including wood, synthetic materials, and authentic construction methods that affect durability and tonal characteristics.

Wood is a popular choice for Ashiko Drum construction due to its rich, warm tones and natural resonance. Certain hardwoods like mahogany, oak, or birch are favored for their ability to produce deep, powerful sounds. On the other hand, synthetic materials such as fiberglass and acrylic are valued for their durability and resistance to changes in humidity and temperature, making them suitable for various playing environments. Authentic construction methods, such as hand-carving and traditional roping techniques, contribute to the unique tonal attributes and aesthetic appeal of an Ashiko Drum.


The size of an Ashiko Drum, encompassing considerations such as height, diameter, portability, and tonal range, significantly influences its playability and sonic versatility.

When selecting an Ashiko Drum, it’s essential to assess the height of the instrument, as it directly impacts the player’s comfort and the drum’s resonance. The diameter also plays a crucial role, influencing the depth and projection of the sound produced. Considering the drum’s portability is important, especially for performers needing to transport the instrument frequently. The tonal range, determined by the size, contributes to the variety of sounds that the drum can produce.

Sound Quality

Evaluating the sound quality of an Ashiko Drum involves considering factors such as resonance, tonal clarity, harmonics, and projection, which collectively define its sonic characteristics and expressive potential.

Resonance is a crucial aspect, impacting the richness and depth of the drum’s sound, while tonal clarity ensures distinguishable and clear notes. The presence of harmonics adds complexity and warmth to the overall tone, enhancing the musicality of the instrument. A drum’s projection determines its ability to fill a space and be heard distinctly, influencing its suitability for various performance settings and musical genres.


Considering the price of an Ashiko Drum involves balancing budget considerations, investment value, and the overall affordability in relation to the instrument’s quality and craftsmanship.

When exploring the price range for an Ashiko Drum, it’s important to establish a budget that aligns with your financial boundaries and musical aspirations. While seeking a drum within a specific price range, one should evaluate the investment value of the instrument, as higher-priced drums may offer enhanced durability, superior tonal quality, and finer craftsmanship, serving as long-term assets. The affordability of the drum should be weighed against its quality, ensuring that the chosen instrument delivers optimal performance without straining your financial resources.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ashiko, the Hourglass Drum of West African Music?

Ashiko is a type of hourglass-shaped drum that originated in West Africa and is an essential part of traditional West African music.

What materials are used to make Ashiko drums?

Traditionally, Ashiko drums are made from hollowed-out tree trunks, with animal skin stretched over the top. Nowadays, they can also be made using synthetic materials.

What makes Ashiko drums different from other drums?

Ashiko drums have a distinct hourglass shape, with one end larger than the other. They are also played by hand, rather than with sticks or mallets.

How is Ashiko played?

Ashiko is played by striking the head of the drum with the hands, creating different tones and rhythms depending on where and how the drum is struck. The drummer can also use their fingers to dampen or mute the sound.

What is the significance of Ashiko in West African music?

In West African cultures, Ashiko drums are considered sacred and are used for communication, storytelling, and ceremonial purposes. They are also commonly used in traditional dance and music performances.

Are there different types of Ashiko drums?

Yes, there are different types of Ashiko drums, including the djembe and the dundun. Each type has its own unique shape, sound, and purpose in West African music.