African Musical Instruments Represent The Natural Rhythm And Beauty of Africa

Music happens to be very important in the lives of African people. It’s a irreplaceable part of their everyday life and nearly everyone in Africa knows how to play one or two musical instruments. Many of us have at some point listened or at least seen any kind of musical instrument play at events and musical concerts. They have their own charm and melodious, lilting appeal. Like the vast continent of Africa, its musical instruments are equally diverse in number, type, shape, sound and appearance. Each region of Africa has its own distinct musical instrument which carries the typical imprint of that region. The music of Africa has been influenced by various cultures – African-American, Caribbean, Latin American and others. Apart from cultural influence, language, the environment, politics, the tribes and population have also influenced African musical tradition noticeably. The music of North Africa is greatly influenced by sub-Saharan African music traditions. Polyrhythms or simultaneous use of two or more conflicting rhythms are quite typical of sub-Saharan music. The range of North African music is quite large and has close ties with Middle Eastern music. African slaves have also significantly contributed to African popular music due to their exposure to other cultures.

Some typical and unique musical instruments include D’Jembe drums from Senegal, Mali and Ghana, tic toc drums, djun djun drums, talking drums, rattles, gankeke bells, balafons, double bells, wooden flutes, malian kora, marimba, cajons, clapsticks, cowry shell shekere, slit gongs, trumpets, rainsticks, woodsticks, Mbira, struck gourds, claypots, panpipes etc. There are also several string, xylophone, wind and harp-like instruments which are very typical of Africa. Among drums, D’Jembe drums, bougarabou, talking drums, water drums, ngoma drums, tic toc drums are very popular in African musical tradition. These drums are played to mark various ceremonies – weddings, childbirth, hunting, funerals and several other public events and are often accompanied with ritual dance. Many drums are even played to inspire people in war. These drums are perhaps the most basic of all African musical instruments dating back to 500 A.D. having deeper symbolic meaning. Many of them are used to ward off evil spirits and pay respect to good spirits, the dead and the ancestors. The sound of many drums can be heard as far as seven miles away. They actually represent the natural rhythm and beauty of the people of Africa.

Music in Africa is very rhythmic. We have often seen African drums, flutes or some stringed instrument playing in many films and documentaries. Haven’t we? Their charm is irresistible! Africa music is ceremonial, sacrificial, celebrating any special occasion, religious and even courtly, being played at royal courts. Many times, special musical instruments are played to announce presence of socially high-ranking people like kings, chiefs and politicians. African music may be broadly divided into four distinct regions: eastern, southern, central and West African with southern, central and West African music being heavily influenced by Western Europe and North America. The materials for the musical instruments are procured from nature like wood, gourds, turtle shells, animal horns and skin as well as various recycled materials. All musical instruments not only produce spectacular sounds but look striking as well. They are really unique works of art.

Didgeridoos Are One of the Oldest Musical Instruments Known to Man

Didgeridoos are one of the oldest musical instruments known to man.

Didgeridoos are made from a naturally hollowed out, (by native ants), trunk of a young tree or the branch of a tree.

There are many different types of wood eating ants (numbers in the thousands) in Australia and there are many different types of trees native to different regions of the Australian bush used for the making of this instrument.

Different ants eat the different types of trees with the results being a semi hollowed out cylinder of wood with various chambers. Each with different internal wood thickness varying throughout and with the separation between the various void areas or chambers left to the will of nature and the ants.

Because of the natural formation of these various chambers with no two being identical the sounds will always be slightly different from instrument to instrument even with the same player.

In the Northern Territory the tree most sought after to make a didgeridoo from is known as the Wooly Butt a member of the Eucalypt family of trees.

The weight of the various Didgeridoos varies with the density and length of the various types of trees eaten by the ants and used to make the instrument. Any holes or cracks in the wood are filled with bees wax.

The exterior of the instrument may be varnished, painted, carved or polished with natural bees wax.

The mouthpiece end of the instrument is usually the smaller end and it may be carved or stone rubbed to create a smooth rounded end or may have a thick roll of beeswax worked into it to produce a soft end suitable for the lips and mouth of the player.

When played, the instrument is usually placed with the sound emitting end on the ground and the player holding the other end to his lips.

Some of the more powerful sound producing instruments actually have a natural bell end formed from the connection to the ground or major part of the tree that they were taken from.

They however are not too easy to carry as one would walk from place to place as they are longer and their use is more ceremonial.

Aboriginal men only are allowed to play the didgeridoo and Aboriginal women are not to play the instrument because it is said to have sexual connotations.

There are however many women from Western cultures who play the instrument very well.

The technique used to play the instrument is called circular breathing, which means breathing at the same time you are blowing air into the mouthpiece of the didge. Circular breathing is a process for those with good lung and timing capabilities.

When playing, the player makes certain sounds, which become distorted traveling through the various chambers creating a very distinctive sound.

In any orchestra today you will find many instruments created with the hollow tube and man induced air system creating many varied and beautiful sounds.

You can create your own poor copy with a piece of 1.5 inch or 40 mil drain pipe about 5ft or 170 cm in length and some bees wax (heated in warm water) rolled like a worm than placed around the end of the tube and smoothed into the end.

By creating sounds while blowing through the tube you will get some idea of what a didgeridoo may sound like.

Kids Musical Instruments

Many of us parents are aware of the great benefits that our children can have by giving them the opportunity to learn how to play a musical instrument. Aside from the enjoyment, positive entertainment and many hours of fun, we know that when our children learn to play musical instruments they gain a feeling of reaching goals, a boost in self-esteem, and the sense of ‘practice makes perfect’, a great lesson to learn for life.

Unfortunately, at times children fail to reach their musical goals and aspirations and more often than not it is not due to their lack of will and lack of practice, but more because of the fact that the instruments they are playing with are not in synch with their specific needs.

To give you an example, let us take a child who is nine or ten years old and wants to learn how to play a guitar. If you get the child a fake toy guitar, without having any realness to it, there is no way this child will ever learn how to play ‘the real thing’. Now, if you get your child a ‘real’ guitar, that will not do the trick either because the size of a real instrument and the complexity of it will be too much to handle for the young child or for the beginner. Think of it as learning how to drive a car; a go-cart will never teach you what it means to drive in a real automobile in real roads, and learning how to drive a big rig truck without having a regular driving license first would be too difficult and overwhelming.

Enter musical instruments for kids. If you shop around, you will find that there are instruments which are ‘real’, meaning that they are made with the same material as what the real, expensive, professional instruments are made of, but they are manufactured with the young musician in mind. They are designed to the size of children, thereby not being too big and heavy. These instruments are also designed to be as simple as possible, without compromising on quality and performance of the instruments, so that the instrument is not overwhelming and complex.

As a music teacher myself, I can tell you from my own experience that for your child to really succeed in their musical goals, getting your child ‘REAL’, ‘KIDS’ instruments is the (only!) way to go. Best of all, these type of instruments are cheaper than the real instruments that are usually used by adults.