Traditional musical instruments in Africa

Traditional musical instruments in Africa

Do most people in the world know traditional musical instruments of African nations? The point is that, not everyone knows that, certain famous musical instruments originated from Africa. Below, you will find some information about the most popular musical instruments of African origin.

african musicians

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13 most famous African musical instruments

Below, you will find a list of the most famous musical instruments that were invented in Africa. In most cases, people have no idea about the true origin of these instruments and even their correct names. It’s our duty to bring things to order and discover the true roots of these wonderful ethnic instruments and the names given by different tribes and nations.

kora player

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READ ALSO: Local musical instruments in Nigeria

  • Kora

This amazingly looking native musical instrument of Africa, also known as Jali, has been popular for many centuries in Senegal, Mali, Benin, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Gambia. The principle of the construction is the same with a guitar. The instrument has 21 strings that are fastened to a long fingerboard. The gourd is covered with some animal skin.

kalimba player

Njacko Backo, kalimba player

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  • Kalimba

This small musical instrument often called the thumb piano originated from the western and central regions of Africa. The instrument looks like a round wooden box that serves as a resonator for the sound and a range of small metal strips of different lengths. The strips are flexible and fixed to the wooden base by only one end. Its sound is created when the loose ends are plucked. In the ancient times, of course, the strips were made out of bamboo instead of metal.

talking drum player

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  • Talking drums

This is one of the most famous African musical instruments that have gone into the world. Shaped as an hourglass, this drum is naturally held under the player’s arm. The drum is called talking because it can give off sounds of a different pitch. Everything here depends on the skills of the player who can squeeze or release the narrow end of the drum to get the sound. This drum is famous and popular in Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Mali, and Ghana.

balafon player

Lassana Diabate, balafon player

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  • Balafon

Balafons are somewhat similar to xylophones or Marimba (another African musical instrument). The construction of this instrument is as follows: a range of wooden planks is connected loosely by two strings on either side and hung over a set of big gourds. The sound is developed through percussion and to get it, you need to hit the planks with the small clubs. Balafon is popular in Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

shekere player

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READ ALSO: Igbo musical instruments and their names

  • Shekere

Shekere is among the most beloved shakers in Africa. The idea of the instrument is in the creation of a net closely set with beads. The net is worn over a big gourd. Since the net is not stretched over the gourd as a skin, it can give a light shaking or shuffling sound when the gourd is either slammed against the hands of the player or shook. Shekere is found often in west-African countries like Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Senegal and others.

djembe players

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  • Djembe

This is another drum that can be found in the central or western Africa. This drum also has a shape that resembles an hourglass but the bottom is usually smaller than the top part.

udu player

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  • Udu

The Udu is a typically Nigerian instrument that is probably made with the jars used to get water from the river. Now, it really resembles a jar with a hole in its side. The instruments are made out of clay or carved from wood. They come in different sizes and the size often determines the pitch of the sound. As well, the style of playing such a drum determines the quality of the sound and its tone.

marimba players

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  • Marimba

This is a complicated musical instrument that consists of a range of pipes fastened under rows of wooden planks. The planks are connected to each other in a loose way with a string or a cord. When hit with small mallets, these planks give off sounds caught by the pipes of different lengths. This musical instrument is popular in eastern and central parts of Africa – Kenya, Zimbabwe, CAR, Zambia, and others.

mbira players

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  • Mbira

This is another complicated musical instrument that somehow looks a little like Kalimba. However, Mbira has two rows of metal trips of different lengths fastened to a wooden box (the resonator). Just like in the Kalimba, the sound is produced when somebody plucks the loose ends of the strips in a certain manner. The instrument is popular in eastern and southern Africa, in countries like Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and others.

The whole name of this instrument sounds like Mbira Dzavadzimu. The name means “voices of ancestors”. In Zimbabwe, they have a musical instrument much like Mbira but with a smaller number of strips and, musical keys. The music produced with it is called Kangobela.

gyil player

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  • Gyil

This is another variation of the xylophone that consists of 14 wooden planks. This is the national instrument in Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. If there’s a community, every male representative is sure to be able to play this musical instrument, better or worse. However, real musicians dedicate their lives to playing the instrument, inventing new combinations of sounds and perfecting their skills. There are two versions of this instrument: kogyil for funerals and borgyil for festive events.

algaita player

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  • Algaita

Algaita, a wind musical instrument from the western Africa is a close relative to another local instrument called Oboe. Algaita has a wider hole at the base and holes for fingers, too, which Oboe does not have. Algaita is made with reeds.

gankogui bells

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  • Gankogui

This is a bell instrument much loved by Ewe people who inhabit the territory of Ghana. It looks like a double bel made out of forged metal. Inside them, there’s a wooden stick that creates the resonating sound.

kundi harp

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  • Kundi

This is a group name for diverse harps with a gentle sound that’s usually chosen to accompany singers or storytellers. Sometimes, they are believed to have magical powers and their sounds are used to heal sick people. Some cultures have already lost these harps as a part of their musical culture but they still keep the ancient items that are cherished for their intricate decorations.

In addition to the mentioned ones, Africans also love different wind instruments like flutes and whistles. These are usually handmade (carved out of wood of made of reeds) and intricately decorated.

marimba band

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Some of the ancient instruments are already forgotten and can be seen only on display shelves in museums. However, the ones that are still in use are worth being preserved from extinction as important and valuable pieces of the heritage of all Africans.

READ ALSO: Hausa musical instruments and their names



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