The atabaque is an artisanal membranophone drum, essential for the different varieties of Brazilian candomblé (Jeje, Ketu and Angola, as well as candomblé de caboclo).
This instrument is made of a wooden cone which is quite long compared to its diameter, measuring about 10 inches on the top end, and 6 on the bottom end. The leather is stretched across with strong ropes that are fastened to wooden plugs, which are then attached to the rim, and regularly beaten with a hammer to make sure that the stretched leather is properly tuned.
Candomblé used to utilize four atabaques: the rum, the contra-rum, the rumpi and the lê, from largest to smallest, but the contra-rum is no longer used.
Atabaques are considered sacred elements that must renew their axé each year. In order to consecrate the instrument for religious use, the leather must be prepared with the skin of animals that have been sacrificed in offerings to the orishas. Atabaques de terreiro cannot be taken outside and cannot be used in unholy music, so there are specific atabaques built for musical performances such as afoxé, capoeira andsamba de roda, among others. The atabaques used in candomblé can only be played by an alagbê (from the Ketu nation), axicarangoma (from Angola or Congo), or a runtó (from the Jeje nation), who are responsible for playing the rum, the largest atabaque, and the ogãns, the smaller atabaques.