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Alex | Hughan "The King's Drum"

Uploaded .

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.

Cave Street's avatar
Cave Street said


Guest said

Norm....your music has just lifted my spirit!

thetworegs's avatar
thetworegs said

What an excellent atmosphere he created with his music....I'm sorry for your loss

Norm's avatar
Norm said

I am heart broken to inform you that Kokou “Alex” Yemey was killed in a motor vehicle accident last Friday. The world will never again hear this genius, at least on this side of the veil. RIP my good friend...

Guest said

Alex tu m'as rappele encore les ceremonies de deces de mon pere ou le hugan a ete joue.

Dave Berry's avatar
Dave Berry said

great, uplifting and fantastic.

void's avatar
void said

Stunning stuff! Gotta love polyrhythms! And impressively tight as well - the man sure got rhythm! :D

Wildgeas Music's avatar
Wildgeas Music said

Awe inspiring performance.

dougsparling's avatar
dougsparling said

Very nice, love the "real deal."

Norm's avatar
Norm said

@Sha-Pink: Thanks! I have a wide variety of different drums - you can get one view of my studio from the cover of my "collaborations" playlist. Various congas, bongos, djembes, bass drums, bells and effects instruments... but no trap-set.

Sha-Pink's avatar
Sha-Pink said

Hi Norm, what kind of percussion set up do you have? You got the rhythm in you.

Keith Landry's avatar
Keith Landry said

Wow. If I could add more I would, but this has me stuck at "wow"

somno project's avatar
somno project said

i loved this tune, congrats!

Tharek Ali Mokbul's avatar
Tharek Ali Mokbul said

Syncopation Like no other! Loving this! Reminds me Of my trip to Nigeria! Is it Africa-fest on the site or something? FAVED!

Guest said

This is amazing!

vaisvil's avatar
vaisvil said

wow - this is complicated!! and cool!

kirklynch's avatar
kirklynch said

WOW! Amazing stuff!

Guest said

Gobsmacked !

Guest said

I love it. It sounds true and real and natural. I LOVE it.

Rick Phillips's avatar
Rick Phillips said

pure percussion genius!

Norm's avatar
Norm said

@RW: Ha! Thanks, but that's a bold faced lie - I've never missed a pheasant.

Reefwalker's avatar
Reefwalker said

Dude, of course this is an instant fav. Yemey and I were hanging out in Togo when I first showed him this pattern. I call it the "King of Windsor" pattern. Naturally, he couldnt tell you this as his english is Kwaai. The lyrics are old too, its about my brother, Norm, the last time he went pheasant hunting. Excellent, man thanks for sharing this

Movement To Contact's avatar
Movement To Contact said

very very nice!

launched's avatar
launched said

Yes - I love it. Masterfully played and produced. It's a really tight beat, and sounds as one in a lot of places. Very impressive!