Posts Tagged ‘African instruments’
by Jessica Rich
In this African Music Blog post, Samite shares his experiences from his most recent trip to Uganda in May 2010.
First, it is important to provide a brief introduction to the most recent political situation in the region. Over the past several years, the Acholi people of Northern Uganda have emerged wounded, but not broken, from a violent rebel movement led by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The goal of Kony, a self-described religious prophet, is to restore the Ugandan Constitution with the Ten Commandments, an effort that he directs by weakening the will of the Acholi, devastating their homes and their families.
In the past two decades, according to the Enough Project, Kony’s army “has abducted as many as 40,000 children, forcing them to serve as soldiers, porters, or sex slaves.” Many children, who will have witnessed the brutality with which the LRA ravaged their villages, were orphaned and taken to protected camps for internally displaced people (IDP). While the LRA’s influence in the region has waned since 2006, due to the Ugandan government’s efforts to restore stability, the group’s violence has left many children and adults with horrific memories and few resources with which to cope.
This past spring, Samite traveled to Kampala, Uganda on behalf of his organization, Musicians for World Harmony, which was developed, as Samite states, “to bring joy and healing to war-torn areas.” The trip was coordinated with help from the Soroti-based agency, Action Against Child Abuse and Neglect (AACAN). Working with children of war is a rewarding yet complex undertaking. Despite international humanitarian efforts in places like Northern Uganda, Samite has seen that child soldiers are often ignored. “I feel like they need a voice. Their childhood is stolen [and] they need to be taken care of.”
During Samite’s most recent trip, he partnered with Maurice Kirya, a Uganda-based musician. In keeping with the African tradition of healing communities through the power of music, Samite and Maurice worked with former child soldiers to provide them with an artistic outlet through which to recover from the trauma of war. Samite and Maurice met with three young men, Mercy, Phillip and Justin, in hopes of bringing another form of healing to their world with music. The musicians introduced different instruments to the group, including the guitar, as well as traditional African instruments such as the finger harp (or kalimba).
In our next post, the African Music Blog will share the music that Samite and Maurice created with these three young men.
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.
Diversity in African music instruments is what gives them their unique sound quality. African instruments include a range of string and percussion devices with cultural and religious significance.
Here are some typical musical instruments from Uganda:
Kikuyu: This is a type of fiddle made from a gourd. In Africa children often make their own instruments and they are taught how to do this from an early age. It is not uncommon for four year olds to make instruments for themselves and this is something they can handle.
Engalabi: A traditional percussion instrument resembling a long, small drum. It has a reptile skin that is nailed to the wooden frame. Lately the Ugandan government has discouraged the practice of using reptile skin but the tradition continues. This instrument is played with bare hands.
Enkwanzi: A panpipe also called an oburere. It means “little flutes” and it is made from bamboo or elephant grass. The nodules on the grass block the passage of air and gives the instrument its pitch. The reeds are assembled, large to small and tied together with string. Western flutes with finger holes are believed to have evolved from this ancient musical device.
Ensasi: A shaker made of two gourds with stick handles used to accompany other instruments in traditional Ugandan music especially in the eastern and central region. In northern Uganda there is a unique sound because the beads move side to side in a tin shell or gourd with several holes.
Basoga Lyre: Made with lizard skin and tied with animal skin like the drums and harp. Strings are assembled with wood woven through holes. The Endongo, or Danda Lyre has one hole and the Entongoli, or Soga, has two pieces of banana fibers or barkcloth around the yoke.
As you can see, these instruments are quite different from the ones cultivated in Europe, and the musical experience is equally wondrous with African music instruments.