Francis Awe


Music of West Africa Ensemble


M.A., African Studies, UCLA; B.A., World Arts and Cultures

He is recognized as a world-class drummer. He is known for being a very charismatic, energetic, exciting, and a proficient master of the dundun (talking drum) of Nigeria. Francis Awe is one of the leading talking drummers of today.

As a child prodigy, Francis Awe performed extensively in his area of Kwara State Nigeria.   He was presented to the master drummer Oyodele Ajiboye at the tender age of three months old, by his grandmother, Asabi Ajibulu.  Consequently, he grew up with the drummers in the village, and from the time he could hold a stick, he learned the art of drumming, starting with the gudugudu, and eventually graduated to learning the different patterns on the dundun.  Oyodele’s son, Lawrence Ajiboye, became Awe’s primary teacher.  His first outing with both of his teachers was at the age of seven, when he accompanied them to play for the installation of the Emir of Ilorin, Sulu Gambari.

Awe studied at the University of Ife where he obtained a degree in Dramatic Arts.  He attended California Institute of the Arts from 1983-1985 where he received instructions from Kobla Ladzekpo, studying the Anlo-Ewe drums from southeastern Ghana.  Awe holds a B.A. degree in the World Arts and Cultures and an M.A. degree in African Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He has been teaching African drumming at Pasadena City College for the past fifteen years.

While employed at the University of Lagos Centre for Cultural Studies, he traveled to Italy, Mexico, and Germany, playing his dundun, gudu gudu, bata drums, konga, clips, shaker, the large shekere (gourd) rattle, and other instruments.  While in Nigeria, he performed with various artist and cultural groups including Steve Rhodes and his voice group, Professor Akin Euba’s Elekoto Group, and Laz Ekwueme’s National Choral.  He has also performed and directed many compositions for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).  

Francis Awe is the director of the Nigerian Talking Drum Ensemble, which was formed in 1985.  The group has performed in festivals in India, Korea, and various venues throughout the Unites State.  He has performed in a host of major festivals, appeared on numerous television shows and commercials,  and has played his dundun on the soundtrack of the films Daughters of the Dust and Strange Days, as well as for many recordings with artists such as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.  The sound of the dundun and the Yoruba songs can be heard on the CD, “Ori Ijinle” (Deep Words), his recording with Bindu Records.  Awe has directed the design of a signature series of the dundun (talking drum) for Remo USA.