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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Lani Adeoye brings Nigeria's 'talking drums' to home furnishing design

Studio Lani

Studio Lani's Lani Adeoye at WantedDesign

Lani Adeoye’s Studio Lani lighting/furniture/interiors design company’s pieces shown at this week’s eclectic WantedDesign show at Manhattan’s Terminal Stores were noticeable simply for their aesthetic appeal.

But astute world music fans were also quick to recognize that many of them derive from the distinctive hourglass-shaped West African “talking drum” percussion instrument. Indeed, her award-winning talking drum-based furniture makes up her “Talking Tables Collection.”

Called dundun in Nigerian Adeoye’s Yoruba language (it means “sweet sound”) the two-headed talking drum mimics human speech characteristics by means of pitch-modulating leather tension cords. Used famously in her home country’s jùjú music by the likes of King Sunny Adé and His African Beats, talking drums have also been employed by rock drummers like Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann.

Adeoye has also played talking drums at wedding and birthday celebration, though she concedes that she doesn’t have the “real skills” needed to be a professional player. But her dundun skills are fine when it comes to her designs.

“Some of the [Talking Tables Collection] shapes are literal, while others are more evocative,” Adeoye said at her WantedDesign display. In the former category would be the Dundun side table/stool, handcrafted in steel with tabletop options available in glass or wood, or when used as a stool, covered in grid-like woven Nigerian aso-oke cloth. Her Talking Light candle holders take the dundun look even further, integrating both the tension cords and leather drumheads.

As for evocative talking drum shapes, the multi-functional Isaju (the high-pitched sounding lead drum in a dundun ensemble) and Atele (the low-pitched drum in the dundun ensemble) side tables and the Dundun Coffee Table offer sculptural modifcations of the traditional dundun shape.

Likewise, the Sisi Eko (Lagos Lady) lighting fixture—in table lamp and floor versions—stretches out and curves the dundun into an airy wire design celebrating the female form and “feminine aura,” said Adeoye.

It’s Adeoye’s passion for keeping Nigeria’s traditional arts and crafts alive that has inspired her collection. Much of it makes use of mat-weaving using the sustainable native Ewé-Iran plant.

“The skill is in decline, so I want to keep it alive,” says Adeoye, who splits her time between New York and Lagos. Meanwhile, she’s also expanding the functionality of the talking drum via her contemporary furnishing designs.



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