Posts Tagged ‘percussion’
I have been teaching myself to play a new African instrument; one that you may have read about here a few years ago. It is called an adungu and it is indigenous to northern Uganda. I have admired musicians that played it and about 9 months ago, a guitarist who often plays with me, Charlie Shew, called me and told me that he just bought one. He strongly encouraged me to do the same… and I did! Rarely has there been a day since that I have not played it.
Charlie introduced me to Martin Klabunde, a master of this instrument. Don’t worry, you can have one too, Martin sells them in America at Collective Awakening. Here you will find videos that teach you how to play the adungu, books, and a variety of other instruments as well.
Playing the adungu is meditational and you don’t have to be a master to start playing a song – the instrument will play you for awhile before you can play it. Unfortunately you won’t remember what you have played for awhile, but I stopped worrying about that because it has given me so many songs already that it seems endless. It took me about 3 months before I could play the same song again and now I have begun to introduce the instrument to my audiences and I hope to start recording with it soon.
Nearly all African music instruments in the United States can be categorized in three ways: string, wind and percussion. Let’s begin with the string instruments.
Another name for string instruments is chordophone. These create sound from vibrating strings made of metal or gut, and within the family of strings there are three sub-categories:
Harps- which mount their strings in a right angle to the soundboard.
Citres or Zithers- instruments which don’t have a neck and use the body for the string-mount. A common zither or citres in the U.S. is a piano or harpsichord.
Lutes – a device with strings supported on a neck and with a resonance chamber. Americans know this type from guitars and violins.
There are a variety of ways to produce sound from a string instrument. Musicians can pluck the strings with their fingers or with a plucking device like a pick or even a feather. Some instruments are played with the assistance of a bow of horse-hair or similar synthetic material. By moving the bow across the strings, the strings vibrate and create sound. Lastly, struck string instruments involve hammer sticks to make sound by hitting keyboards attached to strings.
Another category of African instruments in the U.S. are the winds. Among these are flutes, reed pipes, lip vibrated instruments and free reeds.
Another word for wind instruments is aerophone, both the pipe aerophone like flutes and trumpets, and the free aerophone such as the mouth organ and accordion. The pipe aerophones create sound by resonating air blown into or over an opening. The free version controls the pitch by lengthening or shortening the length of the reed.
In some countries reed instruments are made from metal such as the harmonica or the accordion, however the African music instruments in the United States typically use wood and other materials that come from the land.
For great African music click through to Samite Mulondo’s website CD order page.
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.
Traditional African music is as old as the human race, 150,000 years old. As such, it is not a kind of music with a written history. The intonations and melodies are difficult to note with the western staff.
One of the true legends in American folk music, Pete Seeger, supports Samite’s African Music and wants you to do so also. Here is Mr. Seeger talking about “My Music World” and the revolutionary aspect of the way Samite brings his music direct to you.
The closest western patterns that mimic African music are pentatonic, teratonic, hexatonic and heptatonic arrangements. Drums are the most popular musical instruments in Africa and these drums include almost anything such as hand clappers, sticks, bells, pots and friction sticks. Musicians in Africa also use wind instruments and like the percussion devices these instruments are made of gourds, wood, conch shells, horns and tusks.
The purpose of African music can be recreational, but it can also be ceremonial and ritualistic too. Closely intertwined with music is dance which amplifies the tonal quality of the sounds. Like the Asian languages, African dialects often hold different meaning when a particular word is “sung” with different tones. Dance is integral to the music as a way of enhancing its meaning.
Like music in the west, sub-Saharan African music is used for religion, battle, lullabies and work. Both cultures share instruments like wind instruments, strings and percussion.
The purpose of African music is to express the full extent of life through the sound. It’s an integral part of African culture and society. Children are taught the value of music and musical instruments at a very early age. By the age of three or four, African children are taught how to make their own instruments.
In this way art and Africa are intimately enmeshed, so much so, that some dialects lack a specific word for “music”. Music is so integral; there needn’t be a word for it, showing just how important African music is to its people.
You will help Samite immensely by ordering his new CD, “My Music World” and we thank Pete Seeger for his support.