On gung-gong: Iddrissu Wumbee, Rafik Wumbee
On answer lunga: Amidu Wumbee,David Locke
On lead lunga (seated): Alhaji Abubakari Lunna

Welcome and thanks for using this website devoted to Dagomba dance drumming from the Northern Region of Ghana, West Africa. I am your host, Professor David Locke from the Music Department of Tufts University. I will use a personal tone, as if directly addressing you as colleague, student, or fellow musician and enthusiast for African performance arts. Our teacher on this site is the late Alhaji Abubakari Lunna, acclaimed expert on Dagomba performing arts and culture. Alhaji, as I will refer to him, was my teacher and research colleague from 1975 until his death in 2009. May he rest in peace. The DDD, or “Triple D,” enables direct contact with Alhaji as a teacher, performer and cultural expert. You can hear him teach the music part-by-part, listen to him perform the music, and read his accounts of the history of each piece.

Dagomba drumming is beautiful music. The traditional compositions presented on this site have wonderfully designed phrases that are compelling to hear, challenging to play, and rewarding to study. This site celebrates the cultural achievements of an African people and invites participation from a global audience.

Site for Musicians and Africanists

This site shares musical and cultural information about the dance drumming tradition of the Dagomba people. Alhaji and I developed this material working together both as master-apprentice and also as informant-scholar. Musicians are the primary audience for the DDD. If you have Dagomba drums, this site enables you to study with a great instrumental virtuoso; all performers can adapt the material to their own instrument or learn the music with vocables. Composers will be exposed to Dagomba musical concepts, music theorists can consider my descriptive analysis of the music, and music educators will find material for classes in world music. Through transcripts of interviews with Alhaji, the site also provides detailed information about the cultural history of Dagomba dance drumming and the life story of one of its leading exponents in the 20th century.

The site is made up of four main sections:

  • About Site Content: Here you will find links to materials that will help you interpret the text, audio, and musical notations found in the repertory.
  • The Repertory: Here you will gain full access to the corpus of Dagomba dance drumming materials.
  • The Dagomba: Provides you with background information on the Dagomba culture and instruments.
  • Alhaji’s Life Story: Read the life story of the master Dagomba drummer who has made this site possible.

Dagomba Music-Culture

This section quickly introduces the drummers, drums and repertory of drumming music. Compare to what Elana Cohen-Khani has written.

Dagomba Lunsi

Members of a hereditary lineage play the type of music presented on the DDD site. All members of the drumming family trace descent from one man, Bizung, who gave up the chance to be chief in favor of becoming a musician. If your father was born into this family line, then you also are a member. The word for drum and drummer are the same, lunga (plural, lunsi). Through speech, song and drumming the lunsi recount the history of the Dagomba kingdom, called Dagbon, and the genealogy of the royal families. Among the lunsi of Dagbon, highest prestige goes to those who chant the epic narrative of the nation in all-night performances called Sambanglunga. Lunsi also play music for dance at social events, which is the type of music featured on the DDD site. (See Sources for bibliography, videography and discography recommendations.)

Drums of the Dagomba Lunsi

The lunsi play drums of two kinds–lunga and gung-gong. The lunga drum has two-heads that are connected by leather ropes over an hourglass-shaped wooden body. Held close into the player’s armpit, the ropes are pressed and released to change the tension of the drumhead, thus changing its pitch. Using precisely intoned pitches, the lunga drummer sets implicit texts, or drum language, to melodies that closely resemble the sound of speech. In music for dance, the lunga drums have two roles–the lead lunga , which directs the drumming and presents many drum language texts, and the answer lunga , a part played by many drummers that provides a recurring melo-rhythmic theme in counterpoint to the lead lunga part. Complementing melodic sound of the two lunga roles is the guŋ-gɔŋ, a double-headed drum with a cylindrical wooden body. Dancers groove to the booming bass sound made by two gung-gong drummers. Depending on the particular piece of music, the two gung-gong drums may play in unison or may be divided into intertwined parts, lead and answer.

The Repertory of Dagomba Dance Drumming

Drumming energizes people to dance at social functions. Music may be for individuals to dance solo or for groups to do traditional choreography. Every musical work on the DDD has a place in the social life of the Dagomba people, as outlined below.


When a drummer first shoulders a drum, custom dictates that an invocation be played – Nawuni Mali Kpam Pam for lunga, and Jebo for gung-gong . Invocations align drummers with their history and with spiritual forces. Invocations also are a method of tuning up and alerting other musicians that you are ready to play.

Praise Name Dances

The Praise Name Dances are for people to dance one-by-one to drumming that honors famous chiefs from the past. There is a strong association linking the music to the person who is the subject of the drum language. Often, the dancer is in the family lineage of the historical chief being saluted by the drummers.

Occupational Lineage Dances

In Dagomba society certain jobs, including drumming, is assigned by birth to members of special lineages. This site presents Dikala and Nakohi-waa, music for the occupational lineages of blacksmiths and butchers, respectively. The History Stories for these items of repertory are particularly rich sources of information about Dagomba society and culture.

Group Dances

Drummers play for people to dance in group formation. The dancers are united by a shared factor, for example, gender, social status, age or place of residence. Sometimes the dance group becomes a formal association that is hired to perform at social functions. Dances of this type also are in the repertory of performance arts organizations, such as the Ghana National Dance Ensemble. They are very appropriate for school groups or theater-style African ensembles. The site presents three Group Dances: Takai, Tora, and Baamaaya.

Festival Dances

In Dagbon, the annual progression of the lunar months is marked by a cycle of festivals, each with its characteristic music and dance. Most well known is the Damba Festival, celebrated on the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. The music of the Damba Festival is closely associated with the ethnic identity of the Dagomba people. This site presents the slow-paced processional piece, Damba Sochendi, and the fast-paced dance music usually simply termed Damba (orDamba Mangli, the “main” Damba, when distinguished from Damba Sochendi).