Why Music Matters: Professor and Ifa Priest Dr. Kola Abimbola - Music Conquers a City

Let’s say you’ve got a problem. You might talk to your shrink, your mom, your rabbi. Or, you might go to an Ifa priest or priestess, like Dr. Kola Abimbola, to perform a divination. That’s the way to communicate with the gods in the Yoruba religions of Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean.  

The priest or priestess would base their advice on one of about 204,800 poems from the sacred scriptures, known as Odu Ifa.


This is a story he might tell:

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Here’s some more background: To choose which story to tell, a priest or priestess like Dr. Abimbola would cast the sacred palm nuts (called Ikin) and the divination chain (called Opele), which land in one of the 256 patterns that make the collection of Holy Scriptures called Odu Ifa (kind of like Chinese I Ching). Each of the 256 Odu has about 800 poems. The shortest poem is four lines, and the longer ones are up to about 30 pages. The Ifa priestess or priest would chant poems from the Odu that corresponds to the particular pattern (from memory), and then interpret and use the poems as the basis of their advice to you. Odu Ifa is the sacred scriptures of African-derived religions such as Orisa Religion in Nigeria and the United States, and Santeria and Candomble across the Americas.

Watch a video of Ifa divination, which was deemed “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO:

Music used in this piece: “Leroy” by Tweak and Tony Allen, “Bembe” by Bill Matthews.

More stories in the Why Music Matters story series.

Produced by Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, 2010 AIR Live Interactive Resident. Editorial oversight by Kevin Cole. Mastered by Matt Ogaz. Live Interactive is a collaboration of KEXP and AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio with financial support from AIR members worldwide, Recovery.gov, and the National Endowment for the Arts which believe a great nation deserves great art.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeremy
    Posted April 21, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Beautifully told story. His voice is sonorous. I love the recitation just over three minutes into the story just before the percussion. Lovely.

  2. Kay
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    I love hearing his voice. It touches my heart

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