The smallest ensemble for Dagomba dance-drumming has one leading lunga drum, three answer lunga drums, and two gung-gong drums. On the multi-track recordings one lunga drum plays the lead lunga part, but in Africa two drummers, taking turns like jazz players trading licks, may have the lead lunga role. Since there is no upper limit on duplication, the answer lunga part might be played by dozens of drummers on festival days (see Damba). Although more than two gung-gong drummers may perform at the same time, Alhaji strongly prefers the sound of only two gung-gong drums.
Both lunga and gung-gong drums are made from cedar wood. The job of felling the trees and carving the logs into a drum’s shape is a special role in Dagbon (see Dagomba music-culture). Drummers themselves transform the wooden shells into lunga drums using goat skin, antelope skin, cane, and grass. All the drums you hear on this website were sewn by Alhaji himself in my home near Tufts using materials he carried with him on his flights to the USA from Ghana.
Each drum is a one-of-a-kind work of handicraft using all-natural materials that takes several days to make. When making a drum, Alhaji becomes familiar with the particular plants and animals that go into it; each drum is unique and special. A drummer’s effort and intelligence transforms natural materials into a musical instrument for service to the community. Whenever he drums Alhaji invariably plays an invocation that thanks the Creator for providing human beings the natural world and imbuing us with sense to make good use of it (see Naawuni Mali Kpam Pam).
To make a drum stick, a wooden branch is carved into its approximate finished dimensions, then boiled until flexible, and finally bent into the curved shape. A goat skin cord holds the hot stick in its desired shape. When cool, the drummer whittles the stick smooth.