The Power of the African Drum

By National Museums of Kenya

Get the rhythms down


The beating heart of Africa is the drum. Its sound, style, craft and use has evolved with time, and each community in Kenya has used the drum for different purposes. The manufacture was often steeped in ritual and symbolism, and its use was sometimes restricted to a specific context. Drumming was a common accessory when dancing or performing specific rituals. In many communities, only men would play the drum; in others, certain drums were only used by women.

Tharaka-Nithi Cultural FestivalNational Museums of Kenya

The Luhya drum and 'Sikuti' dance


The Luhya of Western Kenya have a very distinctive dance style called 'Sikuti', named after a local drum. It's an extremely energetic dance, usually performed by both male and female dancers. It is accompanied by several drums, bells, long horns and whistles.

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The Embu drum and 'Mwinziro' dance


This wooden drum was used by the traditional dancers of the Embu community from Mufo village. Young men would play it to accompany young men and girls dancing the 'Mwinziro' dance. The 'Mwinziro' dance is performed when there is a good harvest.


The long narrow drum has a goat skin diaphragm at both ends. It was made by young men from the wood of the 'Mwenjenje' tree. The tree was hollowed out with a tool called 'This'. The thongs were used to carry the drum, and were woven from the leaves of the 'Kikuyu' tree.

DrumNational Museums of Kenya

The Bajuu drum and 'Kirumbithi' dance


This wooden drum was used to accompany traditional dances of the Bajuu community. The 'Kirumbithi' dance was performed by men, and the 'Fungo' dance was performed by women. Drums like these were not sold but made by their owner.


The drum was made of wood from the 'Mutu' tree, goatskin, and coconut tree leaves.

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The Mbeere drum and 'Mwinziro' dance


This wooden drum was used by young bachelors when dancing 'Mwinziro.'. The dance was only performed at night. It is said that the rhythm of the dance attracted girls. Such drums were usually never sold, but made by the owners.


The tall drum was made of wood from the Mukaau (Melia Volkensii Guire) tree. The hole through the middle was cut with a 'Thia' and the top was covered with the skin of a goat or wild animal.

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The Pokomo drum and medicine dance


This is a Pokomo medicine man with the tools of his trade. His drum was a major part of his healing ritual.

Pokomo Medicineman by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

The Malalulu and Pokomo drum, and bachelor dancing


This wooden drum was played by young bachelors when dancing. The drum was made of wood from the 'Makuyu' tree.

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The Tsotso drum


Malako, a Tsotso man, is shown here playing a drum during a ceremony. A drummer's talent plays a major role in creating a charming rhythm during communal dances.

Tsotso drummer by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

The Kisii drum


Kisii celebrations are marked with song and dance. Various traditional musical instruments, including the drum, are played.

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The Kamba drum and "Kilumi" dance


The Kamba people of Eastern Kenya also had their own dances, each with distinctive drumming styles. This is a drum used by women when required for the 'Kilumi' dance. Men were also known to use the drum and dance, but only those who were aware of the "spiritual words" in 'Kilumi' songs. The 'Kilumi' song was a propitiation dance, used in times of famine or other stress.


The drums were made from wood of the 'muinga' tree, carved with a 'thia' and finished with an adze (ngomo). The chocks (Kyambo) holding down the skin were cut with a knife and made from goat skin.

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The Kamba drum and 'Ikiili' dance


The Kamba community used a variety of drums for different dances, rituals and ceremonies. This drum was used for the 'Ikiili' dance, performed by young men. It is made from wood of the 'Muinga' tree, aluminium, cowhide and goatskin.

DrumNational Museums of Kenya

The Kamba drum and 'Anake' and 'Ileve' dance


This Kamba drum was used for the 'Anake' and 'Ileve' dances, performed by young men. It was made from wood of the 'Isavi' tree, lizard and goatskin.

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The Kamba drum used for entertainment


Here is another example of a drum used by the Kamba community. It is exceptional for its long and narrow style - but particularly for its sound.

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The Kamba drum and fire


This is a drum made by the Musumbi or Kamba, and used by young men for dancing. Before playing the drum, the membrane is held over the fire.

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The Teriki drum for funerals


This wooden drum was used at the funeral for a woman from N. Kavirondo, of the Teriki community.

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The Luo drum and alerting beats


Drums hold a very special place in African history and culture because they play an important role in people's lives. The sound of this drum when played was aimed at alerting people in the village of danger or someone's death.


The drum was made using an iron blade, and covered with cowhide.

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The Wasanye drum


Not much information is available about this drum from the Wasanye community. However, it is said to be a poison drum which was obtained from the Voi river.

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