Somehow it might be known that it influenced Jamaican Nyabinghi and Reggae music. I know this much too. And a bit more. Yet still, I would like to examine the relationship between Burru, Nyabinghi, and Reggae music more in this post.
I am a Reggae fan and also a percussionist. I even play(ed) Nyabinghi drums too, so all this is - you might say - up my alley.
This does not mean that I know everything about these interrelations, and I hope to find out more through this post, and hopefully my readers too.
I know from several sources over the years (books, documentaries), that Burru was an African (Akan/Ghana region) drum music genre already played among Africans during the slavery days in Jamaica. It was especially played on plantations in the (then plantation-rich) parish of Clarendon, in Central Jamaica.
Verena Reckord is a (Jamaican) scholar who researched and wrote on Burru quite a lot.
Though African drum music was seldom allowed and even banned in many slave societies, especially by the British and Dutch (Protestant) colonizers (Catholic feast day's and organizations formed an outlet for African traditions in Spanish and Portuguese colonies), the Burru was the exception to the rule, and allowed to be played on many plantations. This was so because the white slaveowners noted it kept the slaves working, as a metronome function. Of course, self-interest and monetary, productive reasons motivated this.
When slavery was abolished in Jamaica (in 1838), the former slaves who played the burru drumming on plantations, went more than others to urban centers like Kingston's ghetto's and shanty towns, supposedly - as some scholars indicate- because their attention to drumming on the plantations went at the cost of agricultural skills. Many Burru players thus ended up in ghetto, downtown ghetto areas of (mainly Western) Kingston, like Dungle, by the early 20th c..
The same poor areas where many early Rastafari adherents came to reside, as the Rastafari movement developed since the 1930s, and after the Rastas were bullied and forced away from earlier, more rural villages they tried to develop (notably Pinnacle in the parish of St Catherine). The African retentions in Burru, of course, appealed to the Afrocentric Rastafari, and a shared location and social position secured more bonds and interlinkages between the Burru people and the Rastafari.
Very simply put, some authors describe the interchange as such: Rastas had no music as such of their own, but had an own religion/faith, partly an Ethiopian/African rereading of the Bible, while in turn the Burru had an own music, but no African-based religion. Many of the latter Burru thus turned Rastafari, while the Rastas, in turn, started playing drums in the Burru tradition, eventually into what became known as "Nyabinghi" drumming.
This seems a clear, one-on-one exchange, and poignantly put rhetorically, but is also a bit simplified. Burru was - as I studied it more - only one of the influences on the "Nyabinghi" drumming of the Rastas.
There survived - after all - also other maintained African traditions in Jamaica, notably the Kumina music and tradition, especially in Eastern Jamaica, more of Congo (Central African) origin, and a few other festive ones, like Jonkonnu, and in Black Church music.
While the three-part "kete" drum set of present-day Nyabinghi drummers, is clearly modelled after Burru traditions, rhythmically and musically there were some changes over time. The "heart beat" rhythmic pattern comes rather from Kumina drumming. Kumina drumming is overall faster than Burru or Nyabinghi, and also more complex polyrhythmically, but has that heart beat base.
Other influences slipped in too. Other Jamaican folk traditions can be mentioned, like the somewhat fast and lively/frantic Pukkamina (Africanized church music), and Jonkonnu (Afro-Jamaican procession music, of mostly Igbo origin). Besides these Afro-Jamaican folk traditions, the popularized music by (Nigerian) Yoruba musician Babatunde Olatunji, notably through the internationally renowned album Drums of Passion, reached Rasta drummers in Jamaica too, along with other influences (local Jamaican Maroon music, though more isolated than Burru or Kumina), and from other non-Jamaican Afro-Caribbean traditions.
Some shifts occurred, thus, from the original Burru patterns.
The community function of African drumming might be quite well known. This was also retained in Burru drumming, continuing traditions as known in Ghana, among the Ashanti, such as praise-songs, or commenting on local events, and also calling out local "sinners" in front of their house. This sounds like some conservative "naming and shaming" through drum and chant, but the thus "shamed" (for e.g. stealing, or adultery), could respond in his defense with another song. It is in this sense more "culture" and communication, than just chastising.
Something of this community "social cleansing" function was maintained in Burru, though not fully, and differently. Celebrating people released back into the community, after release from prison, was one of those "later" functions Burru music festivities obtained.. Celebrating therefore togetherness and community reunion.
Interestingly, with Nyabinghi, the Rastafari gave this drum gathering a more direct spiritual function, combined with the community "reunion" function.
The three-part drum set follows African, Ghanaian models, but neither exactly. It consists of a bass drum, a medium-pitched Fundeh drum, and the higher-pitched Repeater drum. The relatively small cylindrical drums used in Burru and leter Nyabinghi are called (A)kete drums. This term can be confusing when it relates to present-day Ghana, where the term kete is more used for a (royal) drum ensemble, with not even that shape of drum (but "rounder" drums).
The cylindrical drums that are called Kete in Jamaica now, with open bottoms, are nonetheless found historically in Africa (e.g. in the South Nigeria and Congo regions), so it is still an African retention. Strictly speaking, the two attached drums of the well-known Afro-Cuban "bongó" (bongos) of Eastern Cuban origin - under strong Congo region African influences - are also "cylindrical", only shorter than what in Nyabinghi is called the Kete drum.
That is the shape, but also musically there came changes, by the 1950s, with Nyabinghi. In Burru, the bass drum "carried" the rhythm, while the Fundeh added syncopation, and the higher "Repeater" drum had a more improvizing, melodic role. The same distinctions apply to the Kete ensembles in Ghana, by the way. Also common throughout a large part of Africa: the higher pitched drums as more "telling/narrating" and improvizing "upon" more steady rhythms by the other drums.
With Nyabinghi came a shift, though. The carrying, steady ("heart beat") rhythm was not by the bass drum as such (as in Burru), but by the (several) medium Fundeh drums. The bigger bass drum - called "Thunder" drum in Nyabinghi - merely accentuated that - with slight variations - and the Repeater became kind of "leading", while "crossing" or "syncopating" that main rhythm at the same time. The Repeater drums thus more or less "rode" the underlying heart beat rhythm. One might argue that both the high drum sounds, as the (sometime) varying Thunder bass drum sounds, show influence of Kumina (where bass drums vary and "answer" more), while high sounds in Kumina were played by sticks often too, like high Repeater sounds.
Nyabinghi influenced Reggae through the Rastafari connection. That is true, and known to many. Even that, though, is kind of a simplification.
Early trap drummers in Reggae's precursors Ska, Rocksteady, and later Reggae, notably someone like Lloyd Knibb, as well as later ones, like Santa Davis and Leroy "Horsemouth" Wallace, tended to use aspects from Burru and other Jamaican folk traditions, alongside other traditions (later Nyabinghi, Latin American/Cuban foreign styles etc.), and thus influenced Reggae trap drumming.
So there was a direct line between Nyabinghi drumming and Reggae, but also some parallel indirect lines with Burru and other Jamaican folk music.
Sources on origins of enslaved Africans brought to Jamaica show that close to 50% of Jamaica's slave population came from what is now Ghana, mostly Akan- and Coromantee-speaking. Still not a large majority, but influential enough to legitimize a role in developing Jamaican music of that part of Africa. Yet, it is not the only one, as I pointed out. Nyabinghi by itself already a "neo-African" yet Afrocentric African mixture. With popular music genres since Ska, other (also international) influences were added to this.
Burru is definitely, anyhow, a building stone in what we know now as Reggae music.
It is good to point out, that African retentions in large part of the Americas, became pan-African, combining - like the people - origins in different parts of Africa. While in some Spanish colonies, like Cuba, different African "nations" had their own organizations (Yoruba, Congo, Calabar, Arará), maintaining thus more distinct traditions, ultimately influences mixed. This was even the case - to a degree - in Cuba, especially when Afro-Cuban migrants from Eastern Cuba (with more Congo/Central African roots), including musicians, went to the big city Havana. In Western Cuba and Havana, the slave population was varied, but more dominantly Yoruba and Guinea Coast in origin, influencing Rumba, just like Congo music shaped East Cuban Son. To the Son base were added Rumba and other influences, shaping slowly what we now know as Salsa (after added Dominican and Puerto Rican influences).
Interestingly, such gradual mixing occurred in the African retentions in Jamaica too. The Burru drummers originally followed Ashanti cultural traditions from what is now Ghana, as the dominant origin of enslaved Africans in the Clarendon area in Jamaica. Later migrations to Kingston led, as already related, to a combination with Kumina (Congo-based) and other influences, such as among Rastas. This pan-African cultural focus is in line with Rastafari thought, as both most important figures for the Rastafari, Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie I, were doubtless non-limited, active pan-Africanists.
Even broader than this, Reggae ended up very pan-African in its characteristics. Scholars like Robert Farris-Thompson explained how the "Swing" tradition of Black US Blues and Jazz has its origins in Sahelian, Senegambian and Guinea/Mali region "griot" music. Islam-influenced and with more string instruments. Many Africans from this Guinea/Mande-speaking region ended up in the Mississippi delta states (e.g. Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee). Blues and Rhythm & Blues, as well as Jazz, influenced Reggae and its precursors in Jamaica, as it was popular on the radio in the 1950s. The other influences, eventually making Jamaicans develop their own genre, came from local music, rural Mento (comparable to Calypso), but also Burru, Kumina, and Nyabinghi, and even Pocomania and Maroon music. These were more from "forest" Africa (between South Ghana and Angola), as scholars call it, characterized by a polyrhythmic structure (several rhythms at once, structured by a "clave/key"). This remained, though watered down a bit over time - remaining quite strong in Kumina, and simplified a bit in Burru and Nyabinghi - but still present in the call-and-response relations between drums and vocals, to differing degrees.
This combined well with a slight "swing" or "shuffle" base that Reggae took from Blues and R & B, when being played by skilled musicians.
Just like the famous Cuban conga player Chano Pozo adapted well the non-swing, but "clave" Afro-Cuban patterns to the Jazz bands he later in the 1940s would play in, in the US. This type of creativity was and is certainly there in Reggae too.
I would argue that the influence of Burru is throughout the whole of Reggae music, but strongest in trap drumming and percussion.
Several authors, though, point out that the "skengay" pattern of the rhythm guitar in Reggae was also influenced by the Fundeh part in Burru, as Rastafari influence increased in Reggae. This is a quite structural influence: the Fundeh shaped the guitar "skank", partly defining Reggae. The closed basslines of reggae (as in Rocksteady) show maybe too African origins, but a further study is needed for that (from Blues? specific African origins? drum translations?). maybe a topic for another post, by me or someone else.
The influence on percussion seems most obvious.
The Kete drums (as said, from Burru) tend to be commonly used by percussionsts and still are, and Count Ossie was an early Rastafari-adhering drummer and percussionist, playing Burru and Nyabinghi patterns on an early Ska song from 1959/1960, Oh Carolina, by the Folkes Brothers.
With the increased influence of Rastafari on Reggae by the 1970s, such Kete drums were used even more alongside trap drums, along with more percussion.
This Rasta "Nyabinghi" drumming can be found on many Roots Reggae records, subtly or more directly, by e.g. Burning Spear, the Abyssinians, the Wailing Souls, Peter Tosh, Freddie McGregor, and countless others. Even, abeit soft in the mix, on some Bob Marley songs, as a former Burru drummer called Baba Job, played on Marley songs like Them Belly Full and Revolution (album Nattty Dread).. Not everyone knows that.
The influence on specifically reggae percussion seems obvious. In an interesting article by Kenneth Bilby, 'Distant drums : the unsung contribution of African-Jamaican percussion to popular music at home and abroad' (in journal Caribbean Quarterly, 2010), the influences on and by well-known Jamaican (studio) percussionists like Bongo Herman, Skully, Sticky are researched, through interviews with them. Nyabinghi influenced them, but also Burru, they point out. In fact, they said to be influenced also by Kumina and other Afro-folk drumming they encountered, and describe themselves as free, artistic, percussive "seasoners" of the music (several reggae percussionists use the "seasoning" metaphor), but Nyabinghi seems the shared key entrance.
The Burru influence is there in more ways than one would expect. The syncopated, answering drumming patterns from Burru found their way in the accents and varying "counter patterns" of Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae drummers, from Lloyd Knibb, to later ones, some influenced by him, such as Leroy Wallace, and Sly Dunbar. This I hinted at already.
There is one more influence, however, and that I did not know - or better said "realize" - that well. I am talking about the "toasting" that soon developed at Jamaican sound systems, when vocalists "chatted" in mics over instrumental "riddims".. The early origins of Rap, many say, although "rhythmically speaking over drum rhythms" has been known among Griots in Africa way before too.
Well now, some authors point out that early Toasters (King Stitt, U Roy, and others) in fact emulated the Repeater (high-pitched) drum's function in Burru: "leading" "narrating", and "riding" over basic rhythms, often improvizing lines.
Of course, as a percussionist, I noticed how "percussive" this Jamaican toasting (and good rapping) in essence was. It is "rhythmical" talking/singing after all, but creative and playful.. as indeed a good Repeater sounds.
It is by the way not a strict Ghana region, but rather a broader sub-Saharan African drum characteristic: that the high drum "tells stories" or variates on the rhythmic base, and in some areas also on the contrary the lower drums are the varying ones (in parts of Central Africa, for instance).. This African trait continues in Afro-Cuban music genres, by the way (three-part drums, higher or lower ones varies). Afro-Cuban music of more Yoruba origin tends to have the "leading", improvizing role more for higher-pitched drums, those of Congo origins more for lower-pitched drums, but even this distinction cannot always be made.
Either way, "riding" a base rhythm is not just a Burru, but an African - and pan-African! - retention, translated vocally in "toasting" in Jamaica. This has proven to be culturally influential in Jamaican, and ultimately, well, in global music (Rap).
There is therefore somehow a historical connection between the Repeater drum in Burru and present-day Rap music. Interesting!
Something I somehow "knew" or imagined but did not fully realize. I even practiced it playing percussion. Some scholarly authors indeed confirm thus what is in fact almost logical: the African retention which is "riding" (on) a rhythm with another improvizing and "narrating" rhythm.
Whereas the "one drop" drum pattern, according to experts, show an indirect Kumina ("heart beat") influence - via Nyabinghi - (accentuating after all the "third" beat after this heart beat), as do the rhythm guitar skanks.. Some Reggae drummers' other variations, the vocal Toasting/deejaying styles on riddims, as well as partly how percussionists in Reggae play (often using Nyabinghi/kete drums too), show clear influences from ultimately this older Burru too.
I heard the term early on, as I delved into Reggae since my teens, "Burru". As a Spanish-speaker (through my Spanish mother), I noted a similarity with the Spanish word for "donkey", namely "Burro". This did not sound as a compliment, as in both the Netherlands where I grew up, and in her native Spain the word "donkey" ("ezel" in Dutch) were by some used as insults, for a "stupid" person. Donkeys are more common in Spain than in the Netherlands, by the way, for climatological reasons: donkeys adapt better to drier climates (yet are called stupid, haha).
The term "Burru" in Jamaican Patois is, as I researched it, however not a loanword from Spanish, nor does it come from English (or Irish or Scottish).
The academic 'Dictionary of Jamaican English' (second edition, edited by F.G. Cassidy and R.B. Le Page, 2002) has as term "Buru", defining it first as a dance (sometimes seen as "vulgar") or dancing occasions, and the accompanying (drum) music that is the topic of this post.
That Buru dance being seen as "vulgar", might exhibit classist and racist stereotypes of the stiff upper-class, yet the African origins of the term Buru (spelled in different ways), is according to this dictionary from Twi (a language in Ghana), with Buru meaning "filthhiness, sluttishness", according to this dictionary. Other sources confirm this association of the term buru with "wild". These terms can be used positively too, in the sense of "loose" or "wild party", but got associated with the lower class, and even by some with particularly ex-convicts, though they mostly were simply community dances in poor areas. Probably the artist name of "the original Banton" vocalist in Jamaican Reggae, Burro Banton - known for his gruff voice -, relates to all this too.. (his "gruff" style inspired Buju Banton and others in Jamaica)..
Some researchers emphasized that direct recordings of how Burru original was are actually hard to find. That is a difference with the more intact Kumina tradition in Jamaica, and the later Nyabinghi tradition: recorded and known much better.
There are therefore sometimes conflicting opinions about how Burru influenced Nyabinghi: is the "heart beat" Fundeh pattern from Burru, or rather from Kumina? Were drum roles really comparable, etcetera.
Experienced players still could explain that the role of the Bass drum changed a bit from Burru to Nyabinghi, and the Fundeh became more important.
Furthermore, in historical scholarly research there are different ways beyond "primary sources" to gain trustworthy knowledge.
It is at least evident and proven that Nyabinghi music influenced Jamaican popular music, including Reggae. Burru, as one of the few "survived" direct African retention during plantation slavery in Jamaica, surely influenced Rastafari adherents as Nyabinghi developed. The ghetto areas of Dungle and Salt Lane in Kingston were after all shared residential areas of both Burru players and Rastas, resulting in interchanges.
In short, Burru thus continues in Reggae.
Somewhat broader, this was in my case a kind of "missing link", as I studied Kumina (theoretically and to play as percussionist) in an earlier stage, including its linkages to Reggae and Rastafari. I did the same earlier with the rural Jamaican folk genre Mento, and with the influence of R&B and other Black music from the US on Reggae.
So Burru, with mainly Ashanti/Ghana musical origins, was one of the remaining "missing links" in the multifaceted origins of Reggae music. Not unimportant in light of the fact that a large percentage of enslaved Africans in Jamaica were Akan-speaking and from the Ghana region (some sources state about 45% of the slave population), though those of Congo (about 25%) or Igbo origin were also quite numerous.