Music is the food for the soul! In African, it is even more. It is a means of often a means of communication and a uniting force. Africa is rich in diverse musical sounds, and the instruments used in producing these sounds have traveled around the world.
Some African music instruments only make a public appearance during special occasions. Their existence goes back to pre-colonial days. Sadly, some of these unique instruments are on the verge of extinction or witnessing lower patronage. This is no thanks to modern digital acoustics equipment. Without much ado, here are eight traditional musical instruments and their African origin.
9 Traditional African Instruments with African Origin That You Need to Know About
The Kora is a string instrument with a significant use in West Africa. Typically, the Kora instrument has 21 strings. You play it by plucking the strings with fingers, and it allows performers to display their creativity and virtuosity. It is made from the calabash and covered in cowskin. The Kora instrument looks like a harp-lute, but in reality, it belongs to the family of calabash harps found in West African Mandinka culture. This instrument has been in existence for more than 5000 years. Its predominant use is in western and eastern Africa.
The Udu is one of the African music instruments with relaxing sounds. It is popular among the Igbo tribe that occupies a region in southeastern Nigeria. In Igbo, “udu” means pot, which is what these drums actually look like. This instrument is centuries-old. However, when a performer hits it with their palm or fingers, it creates soothing water droplet sounds. It definitely adds rhythm to an orchestra.
The Algaita is a double-reed wind instrument widely in use by the Hausa/Kanuri tribe in Northern Nigeria. Its construction is similar to the oboe-like rhaita and the Zurna. However, the Algaita is different from these African music instruments by its larger, trumpet-like bell. The Algaita produces flute-like sounds when fingered on its open holes. This musical instrument has a leather-like body. Wondering what this African music instrument sounds like? Watch the video below.
The Ekwe is also an idiophone. However, you can see variants of this African music instrument in Zaire (alimba), Igbo (ekwe), Congo (mukoku or lokole), and Guinea (krin or kolokos). It is one of Africa’s biggest musical instrument export. Ekwe is made from tree trunks, and it has rectangular cavity slits in the hollowed-out wooden interior, and it comes in various sizes and designs. It produces a symphony of sounds depending on where and how you hit it.
The Djembe is a goblet-shaped drum that originates from West Africa. It traces its origin to the Mandinka caste of blacksmiths known as the Numu. Furthermore, this musical instrument is covered with skin and tuned by ropes. It became popular across the west coast of Africa with the rise of the Mali Empire (1230 AD), now modern-day countries of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and The Gambia.
The Bendir is a drum synonymous with the Northern African people. It looks like a tambourine but with a wood frame. Unlike the tambourine, the Bendir has no jingles but a snare that stretches about the head that produces the sound when struck with the palm or fingers. This African musical instrument is about 14 to 16 inches in diameter and is used in special ceremonies of the Sufi whose traditions are famous for their music style, dance, and rhythm. The history of this instrument dates back to the ancient Mesopotamia and Egyptian civilizations.
The Mbira is an idiophone instrument. It is essential to know that the Mbira is a popular instrument now available in many parts of the world. This musical instrument originated from Africa and is known by various names such as agidigbo, kisanji, sanza, and the Caribbean marimbula. According to history, variants of these instruments are present in Siberia as early as the 16th century. Interestingly, the marimbula has found its way into Hip-hop and Afro music today.
Balafon is a percussion instrument but plays like a xylophone. This African instrument is found in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, and Burkina Faso. The Balafon’s use goes back to the 14th century. According to oral history (told by the Griots), the instrument originated from Mali. In the Malinke language, Balafon means “act of playing Bala”. Again, this musical instrument can produce 18 to 20 notes. However, some are created to produce fewer notes than this.
The Legacy of African Music Instruments
Many people today use African musical instruments without knowing their origin. Looking at the various instruments we have in Africa; you can see that music is an integral part of the African culture. We believe it is the moral obligation of the young African generation to keep these musical instruments alive through continuous use. Which of these musical instruments are you familiar with? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.