The Music and Dance of Bata is a ritual form of dance for Sango, a deity in Yoruba land. Sango was the third king of the ancient Oyo Empire. It is a communicative dance between the worshipers and the deity. The Oyo Empire, established by the Yoruba people, controlled a wide area between the Volta and Niger rivers by the mid-17th century. The capital of the state was moved here from Old Oyo (Katunga) in the 1830s, and the Alafin (leader) of Oyo still resides in the city.
A typical bata dance takes the structure of a, b, c, d, e.a – is the arrival with songs and dances, b – signifies “ijuba” which means salutation and homage, which is achieved through chants and dances. C – is the section of entertainment, it is the period when a variety of dances are performed. This section takes different forms; the ABACADA rondo form can be identifiable as well as the tenancy form and various other forms.
This section of the entertainment could also be programmed to include traditional acrobatics as part of the dances.
The entertainment could also include a magical show in which traditional musical skills are displayed. Of course the call and response is a prominent feature of this performance, where individual nuances and dexterity are also displayed. This section is rather long and these dances, and entertainment are usually accompanied with music and songs, and punctuated with chants. These songs and chants depend on the nature of occasion. On a purely secular occasion it incorporates less of “sango” and more of the praise poems of prominent people present at the occasion.
In its traditional setting however it places much emphasis on its religions origins by focusing essentially on the praise names and chants of “Sango”, the Yoruba god of lightning and thunder. The last segment is the departure, which also entails thanks to the elemental force for a performance free of hitches, and so it is a variant of the “ijuba” The group then comes with a recession song and dance steps at the end of which two lead dancers, male and female are left on the stage for the climax.
The lead bata drummer speaks through his instrument to cue the dancer in a final burst of energetic dance which then brings the performance to a crescendo. Although there are basic standard characteristics of the bata dance, there are, however, individual nuances and improvisations. It is this that differentiates the virtuoso from the ordinary dancer. Steps and formation depend on this dexterity and on other variable such as the nature of the group, types of staging, the occasion of the performance and the number of dancers, which also vary from one group to the other.
Bata drums produce the music to the bata dances of which there are as many variants as there are bata beats and rhythms. Some of these varieties are “gbamu”, “elese”, “affasegbojo”, “elekoto”,” ijo oge”,” ogese” e. t. c. The “Gbamu” variant happens to be the most popular and at the same time the most bastardised and abused. Bata music produced by the drums is usually associated with the worship of Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning. It is commonly believed by academic researchers that these original drums were played to frighten those who would both make war with Oyo and those citizens who would oppose the king.
Early Bata performances were likely held under the cover of darkness and often preceded parades of frighteningly dressed masqueraders called Egungun and Paraka. The ferocious sound of the beats and the intimidating shape of the drums together with the rigorous beating are attuned to the ferocious disposition attributed to Sango himself. Gbamu is a very rigorous dance executed with mathematically accurate expressive movements and usually accompanied with praise poems and chants.
The tempo of the dance is dictated by the lead drum (Iya Ilu), followed by the gentle caressing rhythmic sound of the small drum (Omele Abo) and backed by the sharp sound of the male or triple drums (Omele Ako or Omele Meta) and a flat drum called “kudi”. A base drum (Ijin) might be played to lessen the work of the lead drum. Another popular music ensemble, consists of five drums; “Gudugudu”, “Iya-Ilu”, “Omele Isaju”,” Omele Ikeyin” and “Kerikeri” or “Aguda”. Either “Aro”-iron or “sekere”- sound shakers could also be part of this ensemble.
Just like bata drumming, bata dancing is hereditary and handed on in the family. There are renowned bata dancers and drummers’ families, and lineages are spread and dispersed across the Yoruba speaking areas of Nigeria. These lineages are also linked with the worship of sango and or the alarinjo masquerade. Some of these prominent families are Adeogun and Aladokun in Ikiun, Ajangila in Iragberi, Lasisi Alujonu in Oyo, and Adisa Ounodunbi in Ile-Ife etc. Bata dance in present day Yoruba land is however not restricted to these lineages.
Another mode of bata performance that has been widely popularised is the Sango dance. This dance is more or less a dance drama, but it offers opportunity for the dexterous to display of fierce drumming, and dances by Sango himself. It is the peak of beauty of the bata dance. Comprising of both male and female dancers, the acolytes chant the praise names of Sango to energise him to display his masculinity. Of this, the Sango dance still retains a great deal of its purity, irrespective of the occasion of performance. This is in instances where the authentic bata drums are employed.