Wednesday 5 June 2024


The richness of African musical styles is matched only by the continent’s enormous variety of musical instruments. While most instruments in Africa serve roles that go beyond simple entertainment, stringed instruments in particular have long played a role in maintaining oral traditions, preserving genealogies, and accompanying religious and ritual ceremonies. Although there are hundreds of different types of stringed instruments across the continent, they can broadly be divided into into bowed (fiddles), plucked (harps, lutes, zithers, harp-lutes, harp-zithers) and beaten (musical bows, earth-bows) types.

The kora, the long-necked harp lute of the Mandinka people, is by far the most well known in the West, and since the 1970s its ethereal sound has conquered the global stage. The orutu is one of many bowed string instruments played across Africa.  By far the most common is the goje or “Hausa Violin” and its many variations, a one or two stringed fiddle traditionally tied to pre-Islamic rituals in the Sahel and Sudan. Lutes are found in many different parts of Africa. Lyres are most typical of northeastern Africa, both as traditional instruments and in their updated, “modernized” versions. The krar (a five-or-six stringed bowl-shaped lyre tuned to the pentatonic scale) for example is still commonly played by traditional storytellers. 

Zithers are another instrument with plucked strings but, unlike the lute, they have no neck. Different types of zither can be found in various parts of Africa, but are by far most common in Madagascar, where the valiha tube zither, constructed with 21 and 24 strings made by unwound bicycle brake cable tied through nails, running the length of a long bamboo pole, is considered a national instrument.

Many stringed instruments across Africa play specific social roles: some serve  ritual or religious purposes, while others can only be played by people of a certain age, sex, or status. In the Luo community from Western Kenya for example only men are traditionally allowed to play the orutu, while among Moorish griots of Mauritania the ardine is only played by women. But music is living and breathing, sounds are constantly evolving and traditions are being challenged. In Kenya Labdi Ommes has taken up the orutu, combining it with electronic music and jazz, and exposing a whole new generation to this traditional instrument. And while some ancient string instruments have been lost, others are being “rediscovered” by younger generations, modernized and incorporated into different genres.


African musical instruments". Contemporary African Art  #africa

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...