"the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, faint"
Congolese tribesmen with talking drums (1892)
Public DomainCongolese tribesmen with talking drums (1892) - Credit: Édouard Riou
Zappo-Zapp Musicians from Luluabourg, Congo Free State (c. 1900)
Public DomainZappo-Zapp Musicians from Luluabourg, Congo Free State (c. 1900) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack

Drums have been used as a form of communication in Africa for over a thousand years. When European expeditions first began to explore the jungles of Africa, they were surprised to find that knowledge of their coming had been carried through the forests a step in advance of their arrival by drum telegraphy.

As well as carrying news from one village to another, the drum plays an important role in the daily social and religious life of African tribal communities. African drums are used at ceremonies to pay homage to the Creator and the ancestors, in courtship rituals, to announce marriages and births, to accompany religious rites and initiation rituals, to herald political and social events, to signal emergency gatherings, and to announce the onset of war or victories in battle.






Conrad’s diary entry for 4 July records: 'At night when the moon rose heard shouts and drumming in distant villages.' W. Holman Bentley had also recorded the sound of African drumming as he made his first journey to Kinshasa in 1881:  ‘We had heard drums before, but until now had not thought much of them. From this time they became an intolerable nuisance. As we passed along, one town would beat a warning to the next.