Accompanying the songs of the Big Drum ritual is a drum trio in which the drums are no longer big, but relatively small. In the past the big drums were most likely sat upon, but now they are played by drummers seated upon low stools with the drums situated between the legs. Two Boulas are positioned on either side of the solo drum called the Kata (Cutter) and with the Chac- chac they constitute the instrumental ensemble.
They are keg-constructed, open-bottomed drums with goat skin heads secured by wiss vines or reed hoops wrapped in cloth. Modern variations include the metal screw type for tuning rather than manually raising the tension of the head by tapping the hoop to tighten the head. The drain hole of the transformed barrel becomes a sound hole for the drum, an acoustical aid for the emission of sound. In performance, the boula drums are tilted away from the earth and the drummer. This produces a bass tone by lowering the pitch of the drum, in essence, by lengthening the instrument.
The Kata drum is played squarely on the ground to produce the true pitch. It has a string stretched across its head with pins knotted on the string to create a snare, a brilliant high tone that sounds above the other drums.
An instrument that is used only for the Cromanti songs is the Iron. Actually several implements can be interchanged — a bottle, a wheel rim, or an old hoe can be fashioned into a musical instrument, the iron, when hit with a spoon. The rhythm that it imitates is that of the nation rhythm.
like that of recasting oil barrels into steel drums, have been made for
centuries within Caribbean music. In avoiding the old dug out drum the
transformation from rum barrels made the construction simpler. In the
same way, the old hoe replaced the ancient bell gong holding its sound
After the Leader intones the song and the chorus responds, the Boula drum adds a revealing beat, the nation beat of the song. If it is a Cromanti song that is sung one would hear the Cromanti nation beat. If it is an Igbo song one would hear an Igbo nation beat and so on. Unfortunately the last six nations have beats that are barely distinguishable in the modern world. However, given the tapes of earlier researchers, one hears the distinction clearly. See the first three nation beats below, Cromanti, Igbo, Manding.
Transcriptions of nation beats (Cromanti, Igbo, Manding) :