The glory of African music is inseparable from our long-time artistry with musical instruments. However, it is becoming harder to distinguish African instruments because they are slowly losing their native touches. Their sophistication and frequent use in international theatres are proof enough that Africa deserves more credit.
How many music instruments are there? Even with the numerous music instruments worldwide in the wake of western civilization, the variety of African music instruments and music genres remains obvious. The continent continues to refine and rediscover better instruments for more charming performances. Africa is home to different types of instruments now used by artists from across the world.
African musical instruments
What instruments are used in African music? A display of African art through songs and dances was fundamental in traditional gatherings, where the skillful play of instruments ensured the continuity of tribal heritage. African compositions come enriched with different instruments, such as slit gongs, double bells, drums, harps, fiddles, flutes, trumpets, and xylophones, to name a few. The continent has since advanced its art to produce even better music equipment, inspiring international trends in the process.
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1. Krar Harp (Ethiopia)
A traditional African guitar from Ethiopia and Eritrea is Krar, also known as kirar, kerar, or kraar. This 5 or 6 stringed bowl-shaped lyre decorated with beads, cloth, and wood is tuned to a pentatonic scale and can be amplified like a violin or electric guitar.
2. The Banjo (Mauritius)
Banjo is a typical African music instrument from West Africa that has gained widespread use outside the continent, especially in the Caribbean by slaves in the 17th century. The body of this instrument resembles a tambourine with a hoop and screw securing the vellum belly to the frame. This stringed musical instrument that has a thin membrane stretched over a cavity or frame to form a resonator closely resembles Akoting.
3. Mbira/ thumb piano (Zimbabwe)
Thumb piano by the Shona of Zimbabwe falls in the category of African idiophones now played globally. Variants of Mbira include sanza, agidigbo, kisanji, and marimbula of the Caribbean. Made of a wooden board with attached staggered metal tines, it is played with the thumbs and one finger. Mbira is prevalent in hip-hop and other African music genres.
4. Balafon (Mali)
The playing of a Balafon takes after that of a xylophone. This gourd-resonated xylophone originates from West African states such as Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Ghana. Historical records reveal that the instrument has been in use since the 12th century CE when it spread from its founding home in Mali. There are several variations of this valuable equipment, which can flexibly produce a wide variety of notes.
5. Ekwe (Nigeria)
Ekwe is a wooden drum-like traditional Igbo musical instrument designed with rectangular cavity slits. The Igbo people made Ekwe from different sizes of tree trunks depending on the purpose. The variants of Ekwe are alimba (Zaire), mukoku (Congo), and Krin (Guinea).
6. Djembe (Mali)
Djembe is a masterpiece of art from Mali's Mandinke caste of blacksmiths called Numu. This rope-tuned skin-covered drum comes with a unique goblet design that makes it portable, and it is played with bare hands. The instrument spread quickly in the thirteenth century to neighbouring states such as Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ivory Coast, and Senegal.
7. Akoting (Senegal)
Akoting, also called Akonting, is a Senegalese musical instrument now making airwaves in different music genres. This folk lute of the Jola tribe is also used in other West African states such as the Gambia and Guinea Bissau. Earlier tales reveal that Akonting is a precursor of the modern-day banjo.
8. Kora (Senegal)
Kora is Senegalese stringed equipment from the Jali families. The equipment is a calabash design covered in the skin for relaxing accompaniments. Its extensive use in modern entertainment has given birth to several variants, including the gonje and ngoni.
9. Udu (Nigeria)
Udu has been around for centuries as a significant source of entertainment for the people of Nigeria. It is a water jug with an additional hole, made of clay and played by hand whereby the player makes a bass sound by rapidly hitting the big hole. This implosive aerophone and idiophone instrument of the Igbo has gained widespread use in other parts of the world for its refined sound and quality of music.
10. Algaita (Nigeria)
Algaita is another famous double-reed wind instrument from West Africa, commonly favourite in international Jazz compositions. The Kanuri people of Nigeria are the founders if this timeless art of music, but it is also common among the Hausa.
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11. Marimba (Zimbabwe)
Marimba, made of wooden bars struck with rubber or yarn mallets to produce musical tones, is renowned for its harmonious notes that follow the patterns of a piano. Its popularity spilled to Central America in the seventeenth century, and several countries across the world have since adopted it. Marimba is one of the indigenous African musical instruments now called the “Mother of Song” for its notes and popular variants.
12. Shekere (West Africa)
West Africa is home to the Shekere, made from a dried gourd with cowries or beads woven into a net covering the gourd. It is also a common instrument in Latin America, and it is played by shaking or hitting against hands.
13. Xylophone (East Africa)
A xylophone is a musical instrument that first developed in the eastern parts of Africa. It is made up of wooden bars struck by mallets and is now a parent for several musical instruments names such as Marimba and Balafon.
14. Fiddle (East Africa)
African fiddle, like a violin, is a unique musical instrument with a bowed string. The orutu of Luo ethnicity and Ong’eng’o of Kisii tribe are among the most famous in East Africa. Fiddles are also common in the Saharan region, where they have been present for centuries, now as Ethiopian Masinko and the Berber Ribab.
15. Kassa flute (Guinea/Mali)
West Africa gifted the world a Kassa flute that has significantly changed the landscape of music. The equipment grew beyond the people of Malinke to entertain the world.
16. Bowl lyre (Uganda)
The Basoga of Uganda gave us this exciting instrument called Endongo in Buganda language. Its modern variations are now rocking the world of entertainment with fine tunes.
17. Uhadi musical bow (South Africa)
The Xhosa people are well-known for playing Uhadi musical bow that produces multiple notes. The Sotho and Zulu also use it in the compositions. The musical bow is speedily adapting to modern instrumentations and productions.
18. Mandole (Algeria)
The origin of this Algerian equipment is often confusing because it bears a French name. This steel-string fretted instrument has an almond-shaped body constructed in a box like a guitar. It was developed in the early 20th century and speedily went viral for its musicality.
19. Ngoma drums (Congo)
These drums are famous among Bantus but are now spilling beyond the continent for their entertaining notes. They are made of wood covered with cow/animal skin pegged on both ends and usually played in groups of 7 dreams.
20. Bougarabou (West Africa)
Also called Boucarabou, this western African instrument is now on the top of the world for its broad appeal. It is made from cow skin, with an elongated goblet or roughly conical shape.
FAQ on African musical instruments
Here are answers to common questions on the topic.
1. What instruments were used in West Africa?
Traditional Africans in the west invented and used instruments such as akontings, balafons, drums, kora, kashaka, flutes, and ngoni, among others.
2. What are the 4 main categories of African musical instruments?
Thousands of African musical instruments categorize into five groups based on the sound produced. These are chordophones, membranophones, aerophones, percussion, and idiophones.
3. What are the 8 types of African music?
Afrobeat, Benga, Bongo Flava, Kwaito, Ndombolo, Taarab, Desert Blues, and Apala are among the most vibrant genres. There are, however, several others that are as well doing locally and internationally.
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Different African communities have played a central role in the development of global music. Therefore, appreciating the diversity of African musical instruments is crucial in experiencing the flavours of our tunes now far-reaching beyond drums and sticks.
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