Archives for September 2013


ScraperIdiophones are common instruments found throughout the history of Africa. These instruments include shakers, scrapers, rattles, clappers and castanets. Some (such as the mbira, also called the kalimba) have specific pitches that can be tuned by the length of the plucked rods (called lamellas). Others are typically used for rhythm making and do not have a specific pitch. The rattle and clapper are examples of idiophones that have indefinite pitch.


IMG-20130804-00348 The picture to the right is a mbira. The Mbira was the predecessor of the Kalimba.

Kora – Africa


The Kora is an African harp that can have over twenty strings strung across its bridge.  The sound boxes of the Kora is made from half a calabash. The front of the kora usually has a cow skin draped tightly across it and can be painted for decoration.  It is called a double harp because the strings are divided into two groups across the bridge area. The sound of the kora is similar to that of a harp and played with the thumb and first finger of both hands.


The instrument is tuned by moving the leather rings up and down the large neck that comes out of the sound box area. The extra “tubes” that protrude from the front face area permit the musician to hold onto the instrument while seated.



Lamin Saho demonstrates how to play the kora.

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This video is of Mamadou Diabate, a griot (musical storyteller)

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Kalimba (Mbira) – Africa

kalimba-africaKalimbas are fully enclosed hollow metal boxes that have keys (called lamellas) fastened on the face of the box. Each lamella can be tuned by its length as well as its position against the bridge piece that holds down all of the lamellas. Kalimas as also called thumb or finger pianos. The Kalimba was created based on the African mbira, an instrument that had its sound box made out of wood or a gourd.


mbira-africaThe lamellas (i.e. keys) are plucked by the thumb. Since the kalimba can be easily held with two hands, both thumbs can pluck the lamellas at the same time or after one another to create fluid tonal music.


The kalimba (and mbira) is part of the idiophone family and the percussion family.



Video Samples of the Kalimba


A professional Kalimba musician, Conny Summer plays the Kalimba in concert.

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Here is another song played on a Kalimba.

Can you hear the different pitches and the “resonance” coming from the sound box?

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A video on how to make your own kalimba (by Steve Ramsey)

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Udu – Africa

Udu - africa


The udu is an African idiophone that is made from a traditional water jug. Originally udus were used by women to carry water, however, udus are now made by professional instrument companies. When compared to the original water jug, the udu instrument has an additional hole is placed on the side of the drum to allow for different sounds to emerge. The udu is made out of clay and can be found in various sizes and forms. This instrument was found played by tribes in Nigeria.

(photo of LP’s Museum Udu drum)




Video of How to make an udu  (by Luftgeschaeft)

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Videos of Udu performances


Rendao Marting performs on the udu in this video.

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This is a video of a family of musicians performing the Zinli tradition with singing and dancing. You can see the udu in the front of the band.

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Talking Drum – Africa

Talking DrumThe talking drum is an African wooden drum that is known for its hour-glass shape.  There are two membranes on each end of the drum. The cords on the outside of the drum can be squeezed under the arm as it is held to create tension in the drum head. This tension changes the pitch of the drum sound. Drummers can quickly change the pitch of the drum by changing the tension and create very unique and complex drum rhythms.


The talking drum was used to communicate across distances in Nigeria , where it is said to have originated. This drum can be called by many other names, but many know it by its use – the talking drum.



Videos of Talking Drums

This is a helpful video that demonstrates the various sounds of the talking drum. The drummer is a native Nigerian named Kwame Ansah-Brew.

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Ken Anoff plays the African Talking Drum during a performance as part of his Drum Experience Seminar. Filmed and edited by David Skinner, Workingman’s Media.

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In this video Ayan Bisi Adeleke performs on his talking drum. Notice how the sound of the drum head changes pitch as he tightens and loosens the tension of the strings around the drum body.

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