Drumming for the Orisa: (Re)Inventing Yoruba Identity in Oyotunji Village

Drumming for the Orisa: (Re)Inventing Yoruba Identity in Oyotunji Village

Colin Townsend

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Abstract

I explore the ways identity is constructed among a group of drummers at Oyotunji Village, South Carolina. Oyotunji Village was founded by Oba Oseijeman I, born Walter King of Detroit, in 1970 with the purpose of providing African-Americans in the United States with a geographical, political, and cultural space to experience African culture. Modeled after Yoruba culture of southwest Nigeria, members of the community practice a religion known as orisa-voodoo. Throughout the year, festivals are held dedicated to various orisa, “deities,” in which the drummers play a crucial role in the religious experience of the orisa-voodoo adherents. An essential part of Yoruba culture, drumming acts as a musical bridge between humans and orisa, enabling orisa-voodoo practitioners to petition the orisa for guidance and intervention in their daily lives. Drumming traditions at Oyotunji Village provide drummers with a repository of cultural knowledge and practices from which to draw, while at the same time offering them a creative outlet capable of reshaping and redefining those very same traditions. I examine various processes of identity formation among the drummers as part of their musical apprenticeship, during which they learn not only how to play the instrument but also about Yoruba culture in general. I employ an analytical framework proposed by Timothy Rice (2003) involving a “subject-centered musical ethnography” within a three-dimensional space of musical experience including time, location, and metaphor.

Keywords: African diaspora, transnationalism, ritual, orisa, Yoruba

Download Full Text – Townsend 2013

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