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Treasured: Yinka Ilori on his favourite possession

Music is the common thread that connects the London-based designer’s most precious memories

yinka ilori
Rick Pushinsky

Growing up in a Nigerian household, religion was important. Every Sunday we’d go to the Pentecostal church, and the thing I’d always look forward to was the dancing.

Nigerian churches are full of music, and services on a Sunday might last seven or eight hours – you’d see friends, share jollof rice and suddenly most of the day was gone.

I made a bit of a name for myself with some self-taught percussion. I’d be invited to play in different churches, and my mum would drop me off. I’d even get paid! I always remembered the talking drum [an hourglass-shaped drum from West Africa] as such a big part of each orchestra and an incredible storyteller, as it’s often played to mimic voices as they sing.

There’s far more to it than meets the eye. Witnessing the drum in action awakened me to the idea that a simple object can forge narratives, which has translated to my furniture as well – I think a lot about how a chair might tell a story.

I happened to express my interest in the instrument to an old friend, and on her next trip to Nigeria she brought me back this drum. The sound is so connected to memory for me – I can recall every time I danced to it in church.

On one of my earliest visits to Nigeria, my mother organised a big party in a field in remembrance of my grandfather. It was like a family festival, with a band hired to play. I’ll always remember how powerful it was to see everyone dancing to the talking drum and celebrating my grandfather’s life. yinkailori.com

This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration November 2020

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