Have you heard the mystical sound of udu drums? Relaxing, almost
hypnotizing, it carries you into a different world: The
land of the Igbo. Below, I'll tell you about the origin and
traditions of these African pottery drums.
If you are looking to buy an udu, it is very unlikely that you'll find
an authentic one from Africa. The traditional instruments are too
fragile to transport. That's why Western manufacturers started to
produce modern versions of the African udu.
Igbo people are an African tribe that occupies a region in
southeastern Nigeria. In
their language, "udu" means pot. And that's
what these drums originally were: simple water pots.
A potter once struck an extra hole in its side while
water pot and discovered the beautiful sound that resulted from it.
musical pot has many different names in Nigeria: udu, abang mbre (pot
for playing) or kim kim, just to name a few.
Men - Beware Of The Curse!
Traditionally, only Igbo women produce
udus and other pottery. This beautiful video shows the process:
But why only the ladies? Because pottery is too dangerous
for men: The needed clay is collected in sacred locations. The
presence of a man in those secret spots would be a serious offense and
cause him to become - impotent!
At least that's what the tradition says.
Or is it...
...just a clever trick of the Igbo ladies to scare the
In fact, pottery was a very profitable business in
Igboland. Every single person depended on pots
to fetch water, to cook,
palm wine, to eat soup,
to wash hands, for rituals, and and and...
Whether the women intentionally kept the business to themselves or not,
selling pots was certainly their great source of income. It
improved their power and social status.
this profitable business for Igbo women is a thing of the
past: The wave of plastic products from
East and West has hit Africa. No need to mention who benefits now.
The Traditional Use Of Udus
Like other African
udus have religious functions. The Igbo also use clay pots and
other pottery ware for rituals and
It can be hard for us Westerners to imagine what that means. Here are
some examples of who may set up a traditional shrine and why:
a woman that is unable to have a child
a family that suffers from sickness or poverty
a community that is threatened by war or natural
The pottery and other sacred items become a medium for spirits,
ancestors and gods. The Igbo make prayers and
sacrifices before them to please the spirits and ask them for
help and guidance.
During these rituals, the deep haunting sounds of the udu drums are
be the voices of ancestors.
Udu Drums In Modern Times
Today, the sounds of musical pots praise God
in churches, because nowadays most Igbos are Christians. And
even men fearlessly play it to entertain audiences
Of course, also famous African stars and Western percussionists have
peaceful and mystical sound of this African instrument:
Udus in modern African music
Dobet Gnahore, the rising star from the Ivory Coast plays an
Western Udu Recordings
Recordings with udu pots are still hard to find, but a few good ones