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Alex | Hughan "The King's Drum"


Caveat emptor: I did absolutely none of the drumming in this piece.


My friend Kokou “Alex” Yemey called me a few days ago with some urgency in his voice: “I must record this before I forget it”. Alex is a very skilled percussionist from Togo, West Africa, but he’s now been in the USA a few years. Naturally I invited him into my studio, where he selected and tuned the drums of his choice - later I helped him a bit running the mixing board, but I did not play any of the instruments. We briefly considered using a metronome, which he refused. He could not verbalize what tempo or time signature he required, so this is performed “au natural”. He had no rehearsal, and finished each of these 7 tracks on the first take. After a brief listen, he said, “Yes, that’s it”. And here it is.

He started out by recording the cowbell pattern, followed next by the high and mid-ranged conga drums. Then the shakere. Then the “talking drums”, which are a major voice in the pattern, and the bass drum, which is the dominant drum. The bass drum was the only one he danced to while playing (he also wants to do a video of the dance at some point). I offered him a large variety of drum sticks, and for the drums that he used sticks on he quickly selected a set of plastic sticks I had salvaged from a child’s toy xylophone. He quickly moved from one track to the next, refused any refreshment (so I had to drink his beer as well as mine), while his 4 beautiful kids played right outside of the door to the studio. Just when I thought we were finished he said “Now I will sing”.

Of course I had to get the story. What is this pattern called; what’s it all about; where did it come from; has it ever been recorded before?

The name of this pattern is “Hughan”, which translates to “Big Drum” or “The King’s Drum”. It originates from the “Tado” West African tribe, in the area of the present countries of Benin, Ghana and Togo. It is a traditional, ceremonial pattern that is played at the burial of a “very old person” or “a hunter”. The pattern is played continuously for 2 - 24 hours (“or until the drink is gone”) at the funeral celebration (it’s a celebration, not really a mourning), after the burial. If the event is for a hunter, the other hunters from his “team” will dance to the cemetery and back to the celebration, seven times, while this pattern is being played.

And, no, to the knowledge of Alex (or me), this pattern has never been recorded before now.

If anyone can help me figure out how to score this, I would appreciate it… but don’t focus on just one drum, as this is polyrhythm at it’s finest!


The hunter has shot the animal, but missed. Let’s follow it.
The animal is gone, let’s go after it.

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