Most African instruments are divided by various categories: Balafons, Percussion, Shakers, Kalimbas, Strings, Bells, and Udus. Here are some examples.
To the Western eye and ear, balafons appear as xylophones and they come from Ghana. The musician who plays the balafon is usually a vocalist too. The balafon offers both rhythm and melody and has keys made from the Shea Butter tree. Only trees which have been dead for long periods of time are considered dry enough for this purpose.
Wood is cut and dried further over fires built in pits in the ground. The strips of wood are cut into keys and a sharp knife does finish work for tuning. Balafons are also made with metal keys to create a unique sound. Gourds support the frame and amplify the sound and rubber beaters are fashioned out of old truck tires. A balafon from Ghana costs $79.00 to $430.00.
Shakers are an African music tradition and there are roughly 25 different kinds commercially available. Most shakers are made of wood however some are made of beads, leather, woven reed, seed pods, coconut, even goat toes!
Gourd shakers are the most common and they are held in the hand and shaken back and forth to produce a rhythmic noise. These can be as long as 10 inches long and cost from $14.00 to $49.00.
Some musicians tie shakers to their ankles as well so they can produce an even more complicated sound originating in their dance. Ankle rattles tie at the bottom of the leg and they are made of seed pods and clacking goat toes.
Bells are a part of African music tradition and historically were used to send messages between villages. Ghana is a top producer of bells, along with Cameroon and Nigeria and they cost from $12.00 to $34.00.
Much different from the west, African instruments are colorful and lively extensions of the earth.