African Instruments

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Instruments: The Heart of Africa

The history of African musical instruments is rich and diverse as the people that populate the African continent. Because music is so deeply rooted in African culture, knowing about African instruments helps you understand the continent as well as the people. Apart from Africans themselves, this knowledge is usually restricted to ethnomusicologists and historians. The roots of African-American instruments are buried deep within the music of the African continent. The history and evolution of African-Americans’ instruments are as rich and complex as the history of African Americans themselves. The essence of African-American instruments lies in its expression of the human experience. Although the different styles vary widely in their tone, topic and the tools used to produce them, African-American instruments have the ability to cross all color and culture lines. Styles such as the blues, country, jazz, gospel and hip hop have spread their influence all over the world. Drums, banjo, and shakers have been a important key to making beautiful, inspiring music.

Drumming was an important part of many African musical and religious traditions. The drum heads at either end of the drum's wooden body are made from hide, fish-skin or other membranes which are wrapped around a wooden hoop. Leather cords or thongs run the length of the drum's body and are wrapped around both hoops; when you squeeze these cords under your arm, the drum heads tighten, changing the instrument's pitch. Drums served as an early form of long distance communication, and were used during ceremonial and religious functions. Ceremonial functions could include dance, rituals, story-telling and communication of points of order. The traditional drumming found in Africa is actually of three different types. Firstly, a rhythm can represent an idea (or signal). Secondly it can repeat the profile of a spoken utterance or thirdly it can simply be subject to musical laws....
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