Yoruba people, of West Africa – predominantly in Nigeria – are blessed with diverse cultural systems that are distinctly unique in their operations; from their language to marriage, to birth or naming ceremony, to leadership, and most significantly their songs, chants and folks which are deeply rooted in all the aforementioned systems.

For instance, there are praise poetries and songs for children of various birth circumstances such as Ibeji (twins), Ige (child whose legs come first at birth), Ojo otherwise called Aina – mostly for ladies (child born with the umbilical cord around his neck) et al.

Also, there are songs and folks for different clans and chieftaincies in the Yoruba leadership system.

Even, there are oriki (praise poetry) for their various foods; and we have ekun iyawo (the bride’s tears) sung at the wedding ceremony.

Some of these chants are sung while some are spoken. The songs are accompanied with musical instruments such as gbedu, bembe, bata, gangan, iya ilu, agogo, sekere and so on while the spoken ones may or may not be accompanied with sound instruments. If perhaps they are, the instruments used are feere (flute), saworo et al.

Without much ado, some of these folk song and chant system will be briefly discussed below:

ORIKI: Oríkì , or praise poetry , is a cultural phenomenon amongst Yoruba people. It could be for clan accomplishment, or individual – particularly by birth circumstance or by personal reputation or position.

For a child, it is invoked to praise a child for bringing pride to the parents or to attempt to evoke virtuous character traits of bravery, fortitude and perseverance that are believed to be innate in a person by pedigree. Oriki can be sung and can be spoken.

Oriki can also be name given to a child on his or her naming day. One cannot have more than one Oriki name. Such names are:

Adunni – One sweet to have (female)

Ajoke – One who is cared for by all – (female)

Àjàní – fought to have this child – (male)

Àkànní – met only once to have this child – (male)

EWI: is a spoken chant or poetry in Yoruba language. It covers a wide range of topics and themes just as in English language. It can be didactic and can be for entertainment.

IJALA: is sung and spoken by the hunters and warriors in the Yoruba parlance. Some of these sung are accompanied by gunshots while at times with musical instruments.

OFO: ofo is usually spoken to achieve the potency of charms – which may be physically seen or already affixed to the body; internally or externally. The ofo at times are historical in their perspectives. E.g. “Aroge, Agbage, Ologuuru jiga, Ologuuru jigo, Ologuuru sese, Igbajo akika; awon niwon d’ifa fun osala oserego nigbati o d’ele aye to oro o re daru…” meaning “Aroge, Agbage, Ologuuru jiga, Ologuuru jigo, Ologuuru sese, Igbajo akika; they (the six priests) are the ones who sought the Oracle for osala oserego when he got to the world and his life became miserable…” And some are just direct and parable in nature.

There are other related chantries that have common usage with ofo such ayajo, ogede, asan and oriki ifa (divination praise) which is used to praise the various phases of the ifa oracle but, as opposed to normal oriki, has spiritual effect.

Agidigbo: it is another Yoruba genre, a piano based Yoruba music. Agidigbo is tied around the player’s neck by a loose rope. Agidigbo’s instruments are Bell (Agogo, a cylindrical metal shaped object which comes in a single, double or multiple with percussion stick), Talking Drum (Gangan), a popular Yoruba drum made from wood, cone shaped with a leather cover on both ends, the drum has adjustable leather stripes on the outside for tweaking when it is played. Talking drum has a percussion stick (a 1-1/4 foot long beating stick with a curve end knob) to code message by the drummer.

SAKARA: a mention of this genre of music, mind goes to late Yussuf Ọlatunji, Ẹgba indigene, Yoruba music with Islamic tonation. Although Sakara has undergone changes by present day singers, yet its focus as praise and adulation song still remains. Instruments include Goje,

(Yoruba violin) and Sakara drum. It is a Yoruba music influenced by Islam in style, tone, message, its purpose is to praise, and to eulogize. Goje, a two string fiddle is a major instrument for this music, and Sakara drum, one of the four major family drums in Yoruba land. It is popular among Ibadan, Ẹgba, and Ijẹbu.

WÉRÉ: is another version or a brand of Islamic styled Yoruba music. Originally, Wéré is used to call Muslim faithful to early morning prayer and to get ready for fasting during Ramadan. The Ajiwere or Oniwere always took the lead among the group to perform the wake- up call.

AJISARI: as the name suggests, is another Islamic song similar to Wéré, use during the Ramadan. The difference between the (two look- alike) Islamic Yoruba songs are: One, Wéré is performed by a group with a leader, but Ajisari is performed solo. Two, Wéré is an all-night-wake-

up song, on the other hand, Ajisari is an early morning song, prior to Sari (the meal before the fast commences).

APALA: is another Yoruba song with Islamic tone, it is used during Ramadan, but it has more musical instruments more than Wéré and Ajisari, prominent among its instruments is Ṣẹkẹrẹ (Shaker).

The songs that later came with transformation through civilization and/or modernization are Waka, Fuji, Juju, Highlife, Afro beat et al.

From the fore going, it is deducible that Yoruba language is very rich in songs and music; and are traditionally rooted; comprising ceremonial song – sung at marriage, house warming, naming, anniversaries, chieftaincy installation etc.; praise song- sung when a task is accomplished, or after victory in a war; burial/mourning song- when evil befalls, a catastrophe happen, death of a promising child, financial loss, disaster, epidemics, etc; traditional religious song- for festivals, masquerade, planting and harvest.


Author: Taofeek Ayeyemi