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Lamidi Ayankunle



Làmídì Àyánkúnlé (1949-2018), a master bata drummer and broker of Yorùbá culture, was born on 6 August 1949 in the town of Èrìn-Òsun in present-day Òsun State, Nigeria. Àyánkúnlé was born into a large extended family of traditional bàtá (double-headed, conically shaped drum ensemble) and dùndún (double-headed, hourglass-shaped drum ensemble with tension straps) drummers. Through his commitment to the practice and transmission of Yorùbá bàtá, Àyánkúnlé dedicated his life’s work to the preservation and performance of what he terms àsà ìbílè, traditional culture. Rooted in a Yorùbá cosmology and worldview, Àyánkúnlé’s term for traditional culture evokes the past that can be easily recalled in the present. Critiquing the modern Nigerian state for devaluing traditional culture and its practitioners, Àyánkúnlé insisted that his family and students of Yorùbá culture practice traditional culture in its everyday, lived context so that it continues to thrive and change. By living, performing, and teaching bàtá, Àyánkúnlé consciously aimed to prevent the disappearance of bàtá as a culture and art.
Within a few years of acceding to the throne
Tutankh-Aten (living images of the Aten) changed
his name to Tutankh-Amen (Living image of
Amen) and started a national restoration program
designed to erase all memory of the Amarna
“heresy.” Given that he was less than ten years old at
his accession, we must assume that he was guided
in this policy by his courtiers, including Ay.
Tutankhamen died unexpectedly in his late teens
or early twenties. Although several modern writers
have suggested that Ay murdered Tutankhamen,
there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim,
and the most recent examination of Tutankhamens
mummy indicates that he probably died following an
impact sustained in a chariot or boating accident.
Because his intended tomb was un nished, Ay
interred Tutankhamen in a modest private tomb in
the Valley of the Kings (KV ). Ay is featured on
the wall of Tutankhamens burial chamber, where
he has donned the leopard-skin cloak of a priest to
perform the “opening of the mouth” ceremony; a
ritual that was traditionally the responsibility of the
heir of the deceased and therefore con rmed Ay’s
right to rule.
Ay inherited Tutankhamens throne, becoming
“God’s father Ay, Divine ruler of  ebes, beloved of
Amen” while his wife, Tiy, became his consort. But
Ay was already an old man who could never have
been regarded as anything other than a temporary
monarch. His highest regnal date is Year . He was
buried in the Western Valley, an o shoot of the
Valley of the Kings (tomb WV ), in what was almost
certainly Tutankhamens original tomb. As his
intended heir, his son or grandson Nakhtmin, had
predeceased him, he was succeeded by Generalissimo
Horemheb. Homemhebs queen, Mutnodjmet, may
have been the identically named sister of Nefertiti; if
so, Horemheb may have been Ay’s son-in-law.
Ay and Tutankhamen made a valiant attempt to
restore Egypt to its pre-Amarna position of
strength, but they were too closely connected to the
Amarna age to be separated from it. Akhenaten,
Smenkhkare, Tutankhamen, and Ay were all omit-
ted from the o cial lists of kings, which passed
straight from Amenhotep III to Horemheb.
[ See also Akhenaten; Amenhotep III; Nefertiti;
and Tutankhamen.]
C la y t o n , P e t e r . Chronicle of the Pharaohs:  e Reign-
by-Reign Record of the Rulers of the Dynasties of
Egypt . London : ames and Hudson ,  .
Reeves , C . Nicholas. Akhenaten, Egypt’s False Prophet .
London : ames and Hudson ,  .
Ty l d e s l e y , J o y c e A . e Pharaohs . London : Quercus ,
 .
Van Dijk , Jacobus . “ e Amarna Period and the Later
New Kingdom.” In e Oxford History of Ancient
Egypt , edited by Ian Shaw, pp. –. Oxford, UK :
Oxford University Press ,  .  
Ayankunle, Lamidi (– ) , master bata drummer
and broker of Yoruba culture, was born on  August
 in the town of Erin-Osun in present-day Osun
State, Nigeria. Ayankunle was born into a large
extended family of traditional bata (double-headed,
conically shaped drum ensemble) and dundun
(double-headed, hourglass-shaped drum ensemble
with tension straps) drummers. His father was Ige
Ayansina and his mother was Awero Ayansina.
Yoruba drumming lineages train their children in
the art and profession of bata and dundun drum-
ming.  ese families celebrate and worship orisa
Ayanagalu (the spirit of the drum). Children born
into an Ayan (drum family) lineage are given names
beginning with the Ayan pre x, such as Ayankunle.
Passed down from generation to generation, bata
is a  ve-hundred-year-old drumming, singing, and
masquerade tradition from southwestern Nigeria.
e eenth-century reign of Sango marks the ear-
liest documented use of bata drum ensembles in
royal contexts. One of the few compounds in Erin-
Osun that continues to school its children in the art
of traditional drumming, Ayankunle’s family con-
sists of about two hundred members, spanning  ve
generations and  ve di erent towns in Osun and
Kwara states. Bata is not just an instrument, how-
ever, but a powerful channel—one of the most
powerful in the Yoruba arsenal—to help drummers
broker between spirit and human realms.  us,
bata drummers have unique relationships with the
spirits and the knowledge born of their roles as
mediators between spirit and human domains.
at ability has been perceived as a threat to
Christianity and Islam; thus, bata has slowly
become more common in secular and popular con-
texts due to dominance of Christianity, Islam, and
modernity in Nigeria.
In the s Ayankunle’s father, Ayansina, col-
laborated with Ghanaian, Nigerian, and German
professors of music in the documentation of bata
rhythms and texts. In  Ayankunle began to
perform and travel locally and overseas with Yoruba
popular theater groups based out of Osogbo.
A-DAB-A.indd 307A-DAB-A.indd 307 10/5/2011 6:57:32 PM10/5/2011 6:57:32 PM
Alongside his career as a master drummer in Erin-
Osun, Ayankunle began teaching in the depart-
ment of performing arts at the University of Ife and
performing at national and international festivals
for African arts and culture in the s. In the
s, he began collaborating with German and
US culture brokers and musicians.
e Ayankunle family exempli es how the bata
tradition has been reinvented from generation to
generation. While the elders in the Ayankunle
family want to ensure the continuity of the classical
bata rhythms and texts, the younger generations
have been playing bata in ritual and secular cere-
monies as well as new contexts, inventing new
fusions along the way. In order to understand and
articulate this dynamism, especially young artists
attempts to merge bata with the popular musical
genre of fuji, Debra Klein has documented the dif-
ferences between two generations of artists.  e
“Yoruba Bata Generation,” whose members were
born in the s and s, came of age during a
newly independent and imminently prosperous
Nigeria.  ey have traveled the world as represen-
tatives of traditional culture since the s, wit-
nessed their tradition lose substance and meaning
with the passing of each generation, and have come
to see bata as an endangered culture form.
Ayankunle’s nine sons and other members of the
“Bata Fuji Generation” came of age in the s and
s during two military dictatorships in which
Nigeria’s political economy was in crisis.  ey have
traveled minimally with their fathers, inherited the
bata tradition and networks, invented bata and pop
music fusions in order to keep their tradition rele-
vant, and relate to bata as an evolving popular cul-
ture form. While the late s was economically
challenging for most Nigerians, the Yoruba Bata
Generation sought refuge in overseas networks
they had built around the celebration and perpetu-
ation of Yoruba Bata: they successfully recast them-
selves as traditional performers in a global market.
Meanwhile, the Bata Fuji Generation invented a
new performance genre through which they revi-
talized their profession as purveyors of traditional
culture during times of economic stress and cul-
tural globalization.
In his late teens and early twenties during the
late s, Ayankunle was becoming a well-known
and much respected master drummer.  e postin-
dependence years opened avenues for artistic cre-
ativity and experimentation in Nigeria, and Yoruba
popular theater was thriving in Osogbo and Ibadan.
Scouted by theater groups looking for local talent,
Ayankunle was approached by several of the Yoruba
popular theater directors and playwrights, includ-
ing Kola Ogunmola and Abiodun Duro-Ladipo.
While the unsolicited opportunity to perform with
such well-respected theater troupes appealed to
Ayankunle, his father exercised much ambivalence
around his son’s participation in such “popular”
art. Despite his conversion to Islam, Ayankunle’s
father continued to practice, teach, and respect the
orisa drum texts and ceremonies, cultural material
he expected his son to carry on and transform.
Accepting the invitation to perform with
Ogunmolas theater, Ayankunle did not rehearse
with the group every day but chose to spend the
majority of his week in Erin-Osun playing for local
celebrations so that he could stay connected with
the culture of bata and practice his vast repertoire
and improvisational skills.
Coming of age as a professional musician in the
s, Ayankunle began to perform and identify as
a representative of traditional culture. When he
was invited to participate in the international festi-
val for Pan-African Arts and Culture, FESTAC ’,
in Lagos, Ayankunle formed and became the leader
of his  rst traveling ensemble called Yoruba Bata.
During this time, the oil-rich Nigerian state took a
keen interest in supporting and displaying local
artists in festivals such as FESTAC and Nafest
(Nigerian National Festival for Arts and Culture)
that served to promote culture as a commodity. In
the early s Ayankunle began to collaborate
with several artists and scholars within various
local and global artistic communities in Nigeria,
the United States, and Germany. Since the s
Nigerian, European and US students, artists,
scholars, and tourists have lived and studied Yoruba
bata, language, and culture with Ayankunle and his
family. Rabiu Ayandokun, Ayankunle’s younger
brother, has also enjoyed a successful career as an
international culture broker, versatile drummer,
and purveyor of Yoruba bata. Since the s
Ayankunle and his groups, Yoruba Bata and
Ayanagalu, have performed for festivals, schools,
and museums around the globe in Algeria,
Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Singapore, Russia,
Austria, Italy, and throughout the United States.
rough his commitment to the practice and
transmission of Yoruba Bata, Ayankunle has dedi-
cated his life’s work to the preservation and perfor-
mance of what he terms asa ibile , traditional culture.
Rooted in a Yoruba cosmology and worldview,
Ayankunle’s term for traditional culture evokes
the past that can be easily recalled in the present.
A-DAB-A.indd 308A-DAB-A.indd 308 10/5/2011 6:57:32 PM10/5/2011 6:57:32 PM
Critiquing the modern Nigerian state for devaluing
traditional culture and its practitioners, Ayankunle
insists that his family and students of Yoruba cul-
ture practice traditional culture in its everyday,
lived context so that it continues to thrive and
change. By living, performing, and teaching bata
Ayankunle consciously aims to prevent the disap-
pearance of bata as a culture and art.
In the s Ayankunle continued to travel the
globe with his group Ayanagalu. Having started the
Erin-Osun Bata Association in the early s,
Ayankunle has hosted and taught students of
Yoruba culture, language, and performing arts in
[ See also Duro-Ladipo, Abiodun.]
A p t e r , A n d r e w H . e Pan-African Nation: Oil and the
Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria . Chicago : e
University of Chicago Press ,  .
B a r b e r , K a r i n . e Generation of Plays: Yorùbá Popular
Life in  eater . Bloomington : Indiana University
Press ,  .
Beier , Ulli . irty Years of Osogbo Art . Bayreuth,
Germany : Iwalewa ,  .
Klein , Debra L . Yorùbá Bàtá Goes Global: Artists,
Culture Brokers, and Fans . Chicago : University of
Chicago Press ,  .
Villepastour , Amanda . Ancient Text Messages of the
Yorùbá Bàtá Drum: Cracking the Code . Farnham,
UK : Ashgate Publishing Group ,  .
 . 
Aybak (d. 1257) , rst Mamluk Sultan of Egypt in the
Bahri line of Mamluks, or slave rulers. His name is
also given as Al Malik al Mu’izz Izz al Din. Although
he ruled for a short seven years from  to ,
Aybak’s rule built the system of military slave ruler-
ship that characterized government in Egypt for
centuries. Originally known as Turkmani, he spoke
Turkish as his native tongue. He had been bought
from the region of Turkish-speaking tribes hun-
dreds of miles form Cairo. Slave soldiers from these
lands were favored over conscripted troops from
Egypt because of their distance from local political
and tribal obligations.
Creating a disciplined army that was expressly
subject to the Sultan, however, resulted in a mili-
tary that knew no loyalties except its own when the
Sultan fell out of power. It was almost inevitable
that these foreign regiments would eventually not
only serve the ruler but come to rule themselves.
Aybak came to power as a loyal supporter of the
penultimate Ayyubid Sultan and successor to
Saladin, Al Sahih Ayyub. He was elevated com-
mander of the Turkish slave soldiers and was
trusted as a taste tester for the Sultan. He supported
the claims of Shajar al Durr, the wife of Al Sahih
Ayyub, who in a remarkable move proclaimed
herself Sultana, or female sultan, a er the murder
of Turanshah, her son and designated successor.
Lacking popular support for her rule, Shajar
al Durr married Aybak and formally abdicated her
o cial position a er eighty days, although she con-
tinued to control and in uence Aybak in signi cant
ways. It was thus out of dynastic confusion that
Aybak and these slaves of the Ayyubids began their
rule. Aybak was given a new name to commemo-
rate the formal beginning of his rule: Al-Malik
al Mu’izz.
Like his successors, Aybak had a coterie of lieu-
tenants who supported his rule even as they jock-
eyed with one another for power and in uence as
they awaited the eventual fall of their leader.  ese
included Faris al Din Aktai, Baibars al Buduqdari,
and Bilban al Rashidi. Despite his attempts to con-
solidate power, however, he did not receive the full
support of the Egyptians or of the former Ayyubid
ruling classes. Responding to the pressure, he
installed a puppet Sultan in his place and built a
large funerary monument to his former master in
Cairo. He claimed that he was merely a “represen-
tative” of the caliph in Baghdad. E ective power,
however, remained with Aybak and the Mamluks.
Indeed, Ayyubid nobles attempted to wrest power
back from the former slaves of their dynasty several
A er several military engagements, however,
Aybak was able to depose the puppet Sultan and
prove the feasibility and e ectiveness of Mamluk
military rule. Aybak crushed internal rebellions in
Upper Egypt, overwhelming restless and amateur
rebels with the superior military prowess and train-
ing that was customary for Mamluks. Soon Aybak
turned his attentions on the Mamluks themselves,
especially as his hold on power was questioned and
challenged by internal revolt. Aybak famously
tricked the powerful Aktai to enter his citadel. He
decapitated Aktai and threw his head out the
window. He went a er the Bahariyya Mamluks, the
followers of Aktai, and plundered their property
and wealth.
Aybaks death did not come from Mamluks
or Ayyubid rebels as he had feared but from his
own wife and original supporter, Shajar al Durr.
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