Anywaa Drumming

Today, we’re going to take a look at some Anywaa drumming. Drums, in the Anywaa language, are called buul and include three types: the aneedo (small drum), the odoola (medium sized), and the buul (the big drum). (Just to clarify, yes, buul can refer to drums generally or specifically to the big drum). Playing with the left palm and fingers and a stick in the right hand is typical on the odoola and buul (Osterland also notes this in his dissertation – see bibliography).

Let’s have a look at how this plays out:

This set of drums that these children are playing at the church in East Gambella Mekane Yesus Bethel Synod includes two aneedo and one buul.

We are going to take a look at the drum patterns for the obeero more specifically (see Anywaa Church Music for explanation of these song genres), as it is relatively straightforward and accessible for playing and teaching.

Here’s a closer look at that pattern:

This is the crux of the obeero rhythm. Obviously, individual drummers like Ojho, who has been playing the buul for a long time, add some variations, as you can see in the other videos and recordings. Aside from individual variations, however, the rhythm more or less stays the same for each song.

For all you transcription fanatics out there (like me), here it is written out in western notation:

H = hit with hand, s = hit with stick

H = hit with hand, s = hit with stick

The obeero is pretty straightforward. The agwaa-ga rhythm, on the other hand, is a bit more involved. Let’s have a look:

Ojho (center) is the lucky one here, as he only has to keep the beat. This rhythm looks something like this:

Agwaa-ga rhythm from the middle drum

Agwaa-ga rhythm from the middle drum

The other aneedo rhythm is a bit more difficult, since it falls on the off-beats.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 9.37.16 AM

Rhythm on the left aneedo

Then we arrive at the buul pattern. Apay gives us a closer look:

As you can see, the buul is where things start to get crazy. Those big hits don’t even fall in the same meter as the other two drums, yet Apay knows exactly when to play them. The buul pattern also varies depending on which agwaa-ga is being performed: a section might be shortened or extended according to the song. Perhaps one day, someone will document all the different types of agwaa-ga patterns. Today is not that day. I had little more than a week in Gambella town and had little access to the drums, so this will be better left to a future project.

Of course, there are other styles of drumming, as well. Anywaa artist Oman “Tararangga” (whom we’re going to feature in a future post) told me a bit about the okaama genre, which also uses three drums. The smaller drums play the same rhythms that we notated above for the agwaa-ga, but the rhythm played on the buul is different. Oman uses this in his one of his singles (aptly titled “Okaama”).

There’s another rhythm that I observed during the Anywaa church service in Addis Ababa (attended on June 12 2016) that is used for dudi moa thero, which means roughly, “small song” (in contrast to dudi moa doongo, “the big song,” which refers to the traditional obeeros and agwaa-gas). You’ll probably find this rhythm used in western hymns translated into Anywaa and/or newly-composed songs.

Here’s that rhythm notated out (r = right stick, l = left stick):

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 9.37.38 AM

Dudi moa thero, “small song,” rhythm

Apay and Ojho also told me about the awaw-wa, which is drumming for dancing, but one usually only can observe this during events, for which I was not present during my time in Gambella. Hopefully, we’ll get to see this during next year’s research!


Osterland, David Conrad. 1978. “The Anuak Tribe of South Western Ethiopia: A Study of its Music within the Context of its Sociocultural Setting.” Dissertation. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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