The Sacred Bata Drums (Aña)
In Africa, the bata drums belonged to the kings and were only played for them. Until the last few decades in Cuba the drums were only played for the presentation of newly crowned priests (Iyawos) to the community and to Aña (pronounced an-yá), the Orisha or deity whose secret resides within the drum. Bembe drums or güiro (shekeres) were used for all other drumming ceremonies. Today the bata drums are played more frequently and for a wider variety of reasons (such as an initiate's Ocha birthday, or to give thanks to a specific Orisha or Santo as they are often called in Cuba).
The bata are a set of three hourglass shaped drums that are played held across the lap. They are carved from solid wood and their open ends are covered in goat skins. One end is larger than the other, and both ends are percussive. The large end of the drum is called the inu or mouth, and the smaller end the chachá. The largest drum is called Iya (Mother) and is dedicated to Yemaya. The middle drum is dedicated to Ochun and is called Itotele. And the smallest drum belongs to Chango and is called the Okonkolo.
There are probably fewer than 100 sets of sacred bata drums in the world. Unconsecrated bata drums are called abericulá.
At the beginning of a tambor or drumming celebration, the drums are played directly for the Orishas, usually in front of the throne or canastiero (cabinet) where the Orishas live. This cycle of rhythms is called the Oro Seco or "dry cycle" because no singing is involved (although in Matanzas the Orisha being honored is sung to at the end of the Oro). When the Oro is played in front of the Orishas, it is also called the Oro Igbodu.
Following the Oro Seco, another complete cycle of rhythms is played in an open area, but this time with singing (the Oro Cantado). During this cycle, priests salute the drums by bowing their foreheads to the floor and then to the drums. After the Oro Cantado, the party (or wemilere in Lucumí) really begins. The akpwon (lead singer) is now free to sing in any order and for any length of time to the various Orishas, praising them and inviting them to join the celebration by possessing one or more of their initiates. Once Orishas are present, the Iya drummer in particular must pay close attention to their movements, as it is the Orisha who calls for certain changes in the rhythm.
The percussive relationship between the three drums is a conversation: with each other, with the singer and chorus, with the Orishas, and with Olofi (God). For this reason, we speak of the "language of the drums."