Bonga with drumsThe Haitian drum (tanbou) is an important instrument to preserve and play. Without the drum, our culture would be lost. The lineage of the Haitian drum is complex, originating in Africa’s Vodun systems. A drum must be crafted properly and baptized in order to sound good and do the job. I met a man from Nigeria who was studying drum history in Haiti. He was delighted and surprised to hear the Banda- rhythm was being kept alive by Haitian drummers since he claimed it was no longer used in Nigeria. Haiti is a hotbed for African drumming. Popular focus is typically on Cuba- and Brazil -- but our rhythms are a well-kept secret.

Haitian drums are fun to play, producing an organic, versatile sound that can be used for dance, professional recording, healing and merry making. I use my drums to play all kinds of styles. Kids love them too.

The drum has survived centuries and those who use it should do so seriously. My drum collection is very important to me; some are from the oldest temples in Haiti. The older the drum, the better the sound!

There are several varieties of Haitian drums each with an African origin and distinct family of rhythms (see below). Most rhythms require 3 drummers. Rada for example is always played with three drums including the Manman, Segon and a Boula. It all depends on what part of Haiti and how the tradition manifested.

My son and I build and fix drums - using hard wood - tronpèt, bwachen, gomyé - and goat or cow skin. Our drums can be used like regular congas. It is very difficult to get drums from Haiti into America. Crafting them is equally challenging due to the finding the right wood and particularly the skins which must be procured under exact conditions.

Bonga making drumHere are a just a few of the rhythm families we work with regularly:

Dahomey represents a large family of rhythms, dances and songs from the Dahomey nation that manifest Haiti’s north provinces (Gonaive, Souvenance, Badjo).

Three cow-skin drums - Katabo, Gonde, Manman - are played by three people using 2 sticks, hand &bow (agida), and 1 hand/1 stick, respectively.

Dahomey rhythms include:

Dahomey are played for Ayisan, Danbala, Legba, Ogoun and Manbo Lisa.


Rada drums also play rhythms from the Dahomey nation but with subtle differences in sound from those of Dahomey north (see above) A trained ear can notice the difference. Rada rhythms, songs and dances manifest in the south and central provinces of Haiti (La Plaine, Port Au Prince central, Jacmel).

Three cow-skin drums - Boula, Segon, Manman - are played by three people using stick, hand and bow similar to the Dahomey.

Rada rhythms include:

Rada are played for the same Dahomey spirits but again the sounds, dances and songs are slightly different.

Petwo is a family of rhythms originating in Haiti’s central and southern regions (La Plaine, Port au Prince, Akayè). Petwo drums are hot and are played for Papa Simbi, Ezili Danto, Gran Bwa amongst others.

Petwo includes the Kita rhythm where two goat-skin drums - Ralé and Manman - are played by hand only.

YaYa TiKongo is a very powerful family of unique Kongo rhythms from Haiti’s north (Soukri Danash). YaYa Ti Kongo drums are strong and played for Ganga, Madanlawe amongst others. YaYa TiKongo includes the Mambo rhythm where two goat skin drums — Manman and Rale — are played by hand only.

RARA are distinct drums, songs, rhythms and dances found in the North, South and East region of Haiti. RaRa drums are played for celebrations where several spirits are honored particularly those of Petwo. Drums are played while walking along with horns, bells and maracas. Rara is -is played on a goat-skin drum (Rara) while walking, standing or sitting.

There are hundreds of other Haitian rhythms and drums style, too extensive to mention here. If you would like to know more about our drums please email me at bonga@bongamusic.com or call me at 917-447-3278. For info about our DRUM WORKSHOPS, please see the Adults Workshops page.