World Music Instruments
Instruments of Indonesia
Gamelan music is the most popular and important style in Indonesia. Gamelan orchestras accompany all dances and dramas. Gamel means "to hammer," and most of the instruments of a gamelan orchestra are struck with wooden mallets, padded sticks or hammers.The conductor of a gamelan orchestra is a drummer who is part of the orchestra.
The N'goni (ngoni) is the Bambara name for this ancient traditional lute-like instrument found throughout West Africa. It is typically a small instrument with a big sound and an even a bigger place in the history of West African music.
The body of the ngoni is a hollowed-out, canoe-shaped piece of wood with dried animal skin stretched over it like a drum. The neck is a fretless length of doweling that is inserted into the body. Unlike the kora, whose neck goes totally through its calabash resonator, the dowling of the ngoni stops short of coming out the base of the instrument. For this reason some musicologists classify the ngoni as a "internal spike lute." The ngoni's strings (which are made of thin fishing line like that used with the the kora) are lashed to the neck with movable strips of leather, and then fed over a fan-shaped bridge at the far end of the body. The string closest to the player actually produces the highest pitch, and the player plucks it with his thumb, just like a 5-string banjo. This feature, coupled with the fact that the ngoni's body is a drum rather than a box, provides evidence for some students of world music that the ngoni is in fact the African ancestor of the banjo.
Below is a video of Mali musician Bassekou Kouyate playing the Ngoni with his band Ngoni Ba ("The Big Ngoni") which includes four N'goni players!
The traditional Chinese Pipa is a four-stringed lute with up to 30 frets and a pear-shaped body. The instrumentalist holds the pipa upright and play with small plectra attached to each finger of the right hand. The history of the instrument dates back at least 2000 years and developed from a pentatonic scale to full scales. The instrument has an extremely wide dynamic range and remarkable expressive power.More information on the Pipa at:
A percussion instrument originating from the African framed folkloric tradition of Peru, readily found throughout the country and most prominently in both Chincha and El Carmen where a significant population of Afro Peruvians reside.
The instrument is of magnificently simplistic construction. Essentially, it is wooden box with a circular hole in the middle of one of the vertical panels. It is negotiated as one would a congo drum by rhythmically slapping its thin front surface at various angles and heights while the player sits on its top. The front face is only partially fixed to the body of the box, giving a distinctive rattling sound when played. Often, loose piano strings or broken reeds are attached to the rear surface of the front face, which vibrates against them producing a sound very similar to a snare drum. The Peruvian Cajón can produce a great variety of sounds and timbres in different pitches that rival a drum set.
This unique percussive instrument was crafted by Africans enslaved in coastal Peru who also used the cajon as a chair, a table and as a sort of suitcase where they could transport and keep their modest belongings. Africans began to arrive in Peru in the 16th century. Along with the West African percussive instrument known as the Djembe (pronounced [JIM-BAY], the Peruvian Cajón has become a fixture in various world beat musical ensembles around the globe.
A kora or African lute is constructed from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin. This ancient instrument is fitted with a bridge like a lute or guitar. The sound of a kora resembles that of a harp characteristics of flamenco and delta blues guitar techniques. The play the kora, the performer uses only the thumb and index finger of both hands to pluck the strings. The remaining fingers depress the strings to create different pitches and to secure the instrument.
Most koras have 21 strings, eleven played by the left hand and ten by the right. In ancient times the strings were traditionally made from thin strips of animal hide. Kora players traditionally come from griot families. Groits are generally traditional historians, nomadic musicians, genealogists and storytellers who pass their skills on to their descendants. The instrument is played in Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, and The Gambia. A traditional kora player is called a Jali, similar to a 'bard' or oral historian.
Early slaves existing in the South and Appalachia crafted banjos after instruments they had generously employed in their original homeland - Africa. Some students of music history call the earliest banjos "gourd banjos". Examples include the akonting - a spike folk lute of the Senegambia Jola tribe and, the similarly sculptured xalam of Senegal which reportedly dates back to ancient Egypt.
The more contemporary banjo (shown here) was perhaps best popularized by minstrels such as Joel Sweeney in the early 1800's. It is reported that Sweeney, who routined performed in "blackface", learned his craft from lessons gleaned from slaves whose names and talents are not readily known. Today, the instrument can be routinely heard in various genres not limited to country, bluegrass or gypsy forms. Among the many world music groups that regularly showcase the banjo in their repertoire, is a relatively new ensemble called "The Carolina Chocolate Drops". Listen for them on Higher Ground.
Djembe - African Drum
The Djembe is a cup-shaped wooden drum covered by a membrane or drumhead made of goat skin. The Djembe (or jembe) originates from West Africa, where it is used, not just for listening, but for dancing. Dances done to djembe drumming include celebratory communal events such as marriage, (a right of passage) coming into adulthood or joy in an abundant harvest. Djembe musical patterns are generally represented by three percussive tones, although more are possible. Some djembes are shaped like a drinking goblet. The instrument is played by striking the drumhead with open hands. By depressing the attached ropes which hold down the skin, varied tones can be produced when the drummer strikes the head of the instrument. Djembes vary in size and can be played standing or sitting. Today, the instrument can be regularly heard in diverse musical traditions all across the globe.
Mbira - African Thumb Piano
The Mbira or African thumb piano (other identifying names include: kalimba - contemporary term; the most popular term
is either sansa, or mbira) is a percussive instrument originating from Africa. The instrument, also used in Cuban music, is
generally held with both hands and played with the thumbs. The physical features of the instrument include a wooden sound box,
attached on the face are flexible metal or bamboo keys (also called tines or reeds) of varied lengths which give each specific pitch.
Performers pluck or stroke the keys with the thumbs. The sound is quite pastoral and reflective of region traditions and nuances
in shape and size. The instrument is minimally enhanced or amplified by the sound box or chamber which has a sound hole in the
middle of the box. The instrument can be purchased from commercial vendors with separate ranges for soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
Another African instrument, the lamellophone includes similar features attached to the face of a wooden plate or wooden bowl which
serves as a sound amplifier.
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