Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra
Samba and Djembe Batterie

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Meet the Batteries:

Afro Cuban Bata


The bata drum originated in Nigeria and later traveled to Cuba and the U.S. The bata drum is used in Yoruba ceremonial music. The rhythms are directed to the Orishas, who are deities of the Yoruba religion. Each of the drummers traditionally belonged to the sacred order of Anya. The bata batterie has three drums, each with two heads: okonkolo ("the child") the small drum which keeps the pulse; itotelle ("the father") carries melody and answers the calls; lya ("the mother") plays the calls and solos and is the largest drum.

During some pieces the cajon drums are played by the bata batterie. This family consists of the tumba, segunda and quinto.They were originally fish crates and were played on the waterfront by the dock workers. Today cajon drums are made out of wooden boxes to replicate the fish crates.

Brazilian Samba


The most popular form of music and dance in Brazil is the samba. The “semba” variety originated in Angola, West Africa, and was introduced into Brazilian culture by the African slaves.  Variations of the samba tradition are played throughout the country.

Spoken Hand’s samba batterie is grounded in these traditions:

Samba Batucada,“ is a style of samba played during the carnivals in the streets of Rio De Janeiro. The music and dance are part of a lavish cultural celebration featuring multi-person “samba schools,” adorned in wild costumes and ornamentation. This type of samba features an eclectic mix of instruments: the “agogo,” (double metal bell), “apito,” (whistle), “caixa,” (snare drum), “surdo” (bass drum), “tamborim” (small frame drum), “chocalho/ganza” (shaker), “cuica” (talking drum), “reco reco” (scraper), and the “repinique” (high tom drum). “Bloco Afro,” is a reggae-like samba rhythm popular in Bahia. This type of samba developed in the 1970s to honor African heritage and history, and was used as a tool to fight social injustice in Brazilian society. The ensemble that includes the repinque, the surdo, and the tamborim. “Sambe De Roda” is a circle dance form, accompanied by call and response singing, set to the “atabaque” (conga), “pandeiro” (tambourine), “triangulo” (triangle), and agogo. “Capoeira” is a martial art/dance form accompanied by call and response song originally practiced by the slaves to develop fighting skills and agility. It is performed with the berimbau/caxixi (bow & gourd shaker) and pandeiro, atabaque and agogo. “Ijexa,” a rythym both secular and religious from the Afro-Brazilian religion, Candomble. Instruments include the agogo, atabaque, and xekerê (African rattle.) The wood block, the gong, the nutshell rattle and the pau de chuva, or rain stick and other percussion instruments are used to simulate the sounds of the rain forest in the samba tradition.

Tabla Batterie

"Tabla," the classical drum of North India, is several hundred years old. The tabla emerged from the merging of Hindu and Muslim cultures, replacing the much older 2 headed drum, the “pakhawaj. ” Historically, (and to this day,) the tabla was played in the temples. The tradition gradually spread to the royal courts, and finally the concert stage, where it has become the most prevelant drum in North Indian music. Tablas are played widely as a solo instrument, as well as accompaniment to instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers of both classical and folk styles. Tabla consists of two tunable drums. The higher pitched drum is called the “tabla,” or “dayan.” The lower drum is the “baya” or “bayan”. Both are covered by a goatskin. Perhaps the most lyrical of all hand drums, the tabla has an oral language all its own; each stroke has its own corresponding Sanskrit syllable. The complex cycles of tabla rhythms are called “talas.” There are innumerable talas in the North Indian rhythm system. Just as melodies are made up of notes, “talas” are made up of many “bols.” Students of the tabla spend years studying and practicing with a guru of the tradition to gain mastery of the instrument.

Djembe Batterie


The “djembe” is a West African wooden drum played largely in Mali, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Senegal and Guinea. Its shape originated from the mortar that was used to pound grain in African villages. It is thought to have originated in Mali and played for religious ceremonies, although the Malenke people of Guinea , and in particular the Ballet African and National Dance troupe of Guinea, are credited with popularizing the djembe in the West.
Essential to the djembe batterie are the low register drums that carry the melodic foundation: the “kenkeni” is a small double-headed drum also made of wood (sometimes metal) that is played by a stick and a small bell. It is the time keeper (or metronome) of the ensemble. It covers the high tone of the three double-headed drums; the “sangba” is a slightly larger drum that has a similar profile as a kenkeni. It is played with a stick and covers the mid - range of the batterie; the “jun jun,” is the bass drum of the ensemble and carries the lowest sound. It is often made of a 55-gallon metal can and can be played with two sticks.

Click here to download our educational brochure.

Education is core to the mission of Spoken Hand – education about music, sound, and spirit – about history, culture, and connection.

Our interactive workshops are designed to teach participants the drumming vocabularies and vocal chants of the four traditions that we represent, while providing relevant cultural context, and emphasizing the importance of traditional drumming within contemporary culture. Workshops cover the close connection with dance, and such subjects as history, geography, migration, religion, folklore, math, personal empowerment, and intercultural teamwork. From this foundation, we teach our unique approach to composition, arrangement, and ensemble playing, and how this approach allows us to merge these traditions together. For longer term residencies, our workshops culminate with a performance.

Since our inception, we have conducted over 700 residencies and educational events at universities, high schools, elementary schools, art centers, healing agencies, and other cultural organizations.

1 1/2 hrs, all ages, all experiences

This engaging program features a high-energy performance, followed by a demonstration that introduces the audience to each of the four batteries, their unique instruments and sonic qualities, and the cultural history of drumming in each tradition. A question and answer session will follow the presentation.

1 1/2 hrs, all ages and experiences

In an interactive, classroom setting, participants are exposed to the various players and instruments of one battery, learning more in-depth about the music and history of one tradition. Students will explore making and hearing music with the company members, learning the rhythms and textures of each instrument, and understanding how this batterie fits into the whole of the ensemble.


1 1/2 hrs, intermediate to advanced drumming students

A more advanced presentation and workshop is offered for percussion students and performers. The program allows participants to play the repertoire of each tradition under the guidance of the batterie leader.

A series of performances, workshops,  and clinics over the course of weeks, months or a semester can be arranged to fit particular educational goals. We will work with you to develop a rich, dynamic program that will fit the needs of various learning groups.

“The feedback from all the workshops in your residency was superlative. Students were engaged and excited…The concert you gave was equally engaging. The audience reacted strongly and warmly to the variety of musical experiences you provided. The informal atmosphere you provide, including talking and explanation, dancing, singing, and performing, keeps interest attuned throughout the program. By the end of the performance, the audience was on its feet and children were rushing to the stage to join in. One cannot ask for a more positive response….I would strongly urge all presenting organizations to take advantage of your musical talents and your personal generosity as emissaries of world music.”
- Naomi Amos,
Randolph Macon Women’s College, Lynchburg Community Concert Association  
“ I believe I speak for everyone in the Department of Music and Dance when I say how outstanding was the Spoken Hand concert! I can think of only two other programs during my time here that have elicited the riotously appreciative response from the large audience of students, faculty, staff and the community at large… Students had been talking about the concert experience for days afterward.”
- Kim Arrow, Swarthmore College  
“The students were very sad that the project had to end. They have benefited in ways I cannot fully comprehend. I am very grateful for the opportunity we had to work with such a wonderful group.”
-Cheryl S. Roebuck, Meredith Elementary School