Piano and Drums - Gabriel Okara Summary and Analysis [African Poetry]
African Poetry: Piano and Drums by Gabriel Okara Summary and Analysis: Setting, Author's Background, Themes, Stanzas, Language and Style for JAMB, WAEC and NECO Literature Syllabus.
It is no longer news that the above selected poetry Piano and Drums by Gabriel Okara is among the selected texts for literature students in the WAEC, NECO and JAMB Syllabus.

Well we have decided to help students by providing some insights such as summary and poetic devices and analysis of the poem Piano and Drums by Gabriel Okara to aid them understand and prepare ahead of their examination.


Gabriel Okara, in full Gabriel lmomotimi Gbaingbain Okara, is a Nigerian poet and novelist whose verse had been translated into several languages by the early 19605.

A largely self-educated man, Okara became a bookbinder after leaving school and soon began writing plays and features for radio. In his poem, The Call of the River Nun, won an award at the Nigerian Festival of Arts.

The white man came to Africa with many things including his culture or ways of life. The European culture exposes Africans to unfamiliar andastonishing things, it made them experience things that were absurd according to the African Culture. Most of these things were not accepted, while a few, especially material artifacts, were embraced by both the commoners and the elites.

Africans, through western education were able to experience the European culture and consider it as fascinating but complicated. Gabriel Okara had the opportunity to access Western education at the time it was available to just few Africans. Hence, he was privileged to experience this strange fascination.

Yet, the familiar, simple and natural life of his people seems too enriching and raceful to be abandoned. This was the lot of many early educated elites in Africa, and it created the driving force for Gabriel Okara's "Piano and Drums".


When at break of day at a riverside
I hear jungle drums telegraphing
the mystic rhythm, urgent, raw
like bleeding flesh, speaking of
primal youth and the beginning,
I see panther snarling about to leap
8 and the hunters crunched with spears poised;

And my blood ripples, turns torrent,
topple the years and at once I'm
in my mother's laps a suckling;
at once I'm walking simple
paths with no innovations,
rugged, fashioned with the naked
warmth of hurrying feet and groping hearts
16 in green leaves and wild flowers pulsing.

Then I hear a wailing piano
Solo speaking of complex ways
in tear-furrowed concerts
on far away lands
and new horizons with
coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint,
crescendo. But lost in the labyrinth of its complexities,
it ends in the middle
25 of a phrase at a dagger point.

And I lost in the morning mist
of an age at a riverside keep
wandering in the mystic rhythm
29 of jungle drums and the concerto.


The setting of the poem appears to be the poet's village and it is a typical African countryside. The poet also informs us that it is a riverside.

What lends support to this conjecture is the fact that Gabriel Okara hails from the riverine area of Nigeria where numerous water channels from River Niger form a delta before emptying into the Atlantic.

Also, the setting is rural in nature, we infer this from the animals the poet refers to; and the choice of words employed by the poet which includes; "jungle drums", "wild flowers", "hunters" and "green leaves".

Lastly, it should be noted that the time described in the poem is morning when there are no disturbance.


The poem explains that it is not possible for man to operate on ' simultaneosly. The post illustrates this using African and europea him, the African culture is natural and simple, while the Europear fascinating and ecclectic (complex). The poet tries as much as he acquainted to the two but got confused along the line.


At the beginning, the poem introduces us to the setting which unveil the poet-speaker at daybreak, apparently at the bank of an unknown river in Africa.

There, he hears the strange sound of Jungle drums sending an "urgent raw" message that speaks of his "primal youth and the beginning".

This "raw" undiluted message reminds the poet where he comes from, the natural and rustic African environment where he has spent his youthful days before his quest for western civilization. It is an "urgent" message to a prodigal son, who has lost his identity, to remember his origin which the Western world has tagged primitive.

The rhythm, of the drum arouses the unforgettable memories of the exciting days of his youth in his village where he has seen hunters with spears stalking leopards and panthers. This stirs his blood until it "turns torrent" bringing back years of infancy even as a baby sucking her mother's breast in the comfort of her laps.

Suddenly, he sees himself 'walking simple paths with no innovation'. The African lifestyle is indeed simple, but lacks innovations.

Unlike the developed western nations with tarred roads he sees himself walking th e 'rugged' and untarred path of his village barefoot along the forest surrounded by "green leaves and wild flowers"  Then, at once, he hears "a wailing piano".

The piano, unlike thejungle drums, is in mournful isolation speaking of the "complex ways" of a distant and strange land with new opportunities. With the musical imagery of a concerto, the poet- speaker paints a culture that is in disarray despite its advancement.

The wailing piano suddenly becomes quiet, and then it tries to blend in counter point with the mystic rhythm of the drums to create a sweet melody even as the music rises. Such an attempt ends up producing discordant music.

This symbolizes the impossibility of living two diverse cultures simultaneously. The "coaxing" blend of the conflicting melodies results in a dissonant tune whereby the speaker becomes lost in its "complexities".

His frantic effort to amalgamate the two cultures to his benefit becomes futile. He becomes more confused and stranded "in the middle of a phrase at a dagger point."  The last stanza of the poem shows the poet-speaker in a dilemma.

He is stuck on the same spot where the poem begins, the riverside. He is completely lost in the "mist" of two incompatible cultures that make up his existence.

His indecisiveness has rendered him stagnant on the same spot not knowing whether to follow the mystic rhythm of the jungle drums or the wailing piano in a concerto.

The drum which represents African culture is simple, natural but unsophisticated. The piano which represents western civilization is more advanced but complicated.

So, the poet-speaker is caught in a tangle of web of his African root and past, and his exposure to modern civilization through education.

The poem ends with the irresolution of the poet-speaker as he is unable to balance his life in between the two cultures.


1. Dilemma
2. Innocence
3. Cultural Clash
4. African Culture


- Use of contrast
- Personification
- Use of present participle
- Symbolism
- Imagery
- Simile
- Diction