Udo Drums

Udo Pots

By Melanie Bishop

These are traditional percussion instruments that originate from the Ibo and Hausa tribes of Nigeria West Africa, where they were initially used in religious and cultural ceremonies. Udu means both “pottery” and “Peace” in the Ibo tribal language. A design primarily based on water vessels carried by women on their heads. The instrument was discovered when ancient village potter of the Ibo tribe inadvertently created a side hole in the clay water vessel and discovered the beautiful sound it produced.

Though treated as a drum, it is not actually a drum by definition. It is however classified as an Earophone, because the sound is produced by the movement of air between the hands rather than the vibration of a membrane.

Beautiful to hold and touch, calming and soothing to the eye, the Udu pot can take you to a meditative state, producing feelings of peace and wellbeing. The Udu combines the unique sound of “aqua-resonance” with a warm earthy vibration, producing a seamless fusion of deep and high ambient tones. The basic playing technique is to seal the holes with the palms of the hands alternately to varying degrees. By varying the type of stroke and the way in which you release your hand, you can coax many different tonal variations and harmonics from the instrument. It is also common to slap and tap the side and even add water to produce a wide palette of sounds.

With the rise of technology and the souvenir demand for these beautiful pots, it is becoming more difficult to find the traditional hand built version. Many of these instruments available on the market today have been mass-produced in a slip-casting process.

My creations are intentionally built with local clay using the traditional technique of hand coiled water vessels. The pot is repeatedly burnished throughout the drying process with a smooth quartz stone to increase the water-tightness of the clay and in this case, to create a naturally beautiful soothing surface, without the use of surface glazes.

The pot is then fired in a fashion that emulates the traditional pit firing process of African Pottery.

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