«A blade of grass held between the thumbs sound as a reed under the breath...»

The making of musical instruments never cease to amaze: from the know-how of the instrument maker, diversity of materials to the incredible creativity involved. Bamboo shows more than any other material the flexibility of plant matter in the making of musical instruments. We find it blown (flutes), struck (drum-zither), oscillated (angklung) or plucked (idiochord zither).

Because of its accessibility, its variety and its flexibility, plant matter is found as the basis for many musical instruments, such as rattles, sistras and musical bows. Calabash, wood, bamboo, cork and lianas constitute the dominant plant matters found in this category.

Discover the vaksi-n trumpet, the medzang xylophone, the mornes flute , a calabash sistra, the berimbau musical bow, the syak scraper and the kandanzi sanza.
«A blade of grass held between the thumbs sound as a reed under the breath...»

The making of musical instruments never cease to amaze: from the know-how of the instrument maker, diversity of materials to the incredible creativity involved. Bamboo shows more than any other material the flexibility of plant matter in the making of musical instruments. We find it blown (flutes), struck (drum-zither), oscillated (angklung) or plucked (idiochord zither).

Because of its accessibility, its variety and its flexibility, plant matter is found as the basis for many musical instruments, such as rattles, sistras and musical bows. Calabash, wood, bamboo, cork and lianas constitute the dominant plant matters found in this category.

Discover the vaksi-n trumpet, the medzang xylophone, the mornes flute , a calabash sistra, the berimbau musical bow, the syak scraper and the kandanzi sanza.

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.

Clapping Sticks

Description:Two sticks made from tree branches, struck together, decorated with mythic animal patterns (serpent, lizard, by pyrography) and pointillistic bands.

Function and usage: Accompanies songs and dances.

Photo: L.Bouvrette

Long.: 26,5 cm / Ø: 2,5 cm
© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.


Scraper, Costa Rica

Description: Whole squash of which one of its sides is striated, making its surface ideal for scraping. Typical floral patterns from Costa Rica are painted on the opposite side.

Function and usage: used in dance orchestras to sustain rhythm

Photo: L.Bouvrette

Long.: 51 cm / H. max.:12 cm / circonf. max.
© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.


Found across most of sub-saharan Africa, the calabash sistra originates from East Africa. The calabash rings, slipped through a branch of the wooden fork, are placed by pairs, concave sides facing. This amplifies the sound when the sistra is shaken.

Originally used exclusively for circumcision ceremonies, it is sometimes heard during funerals. Its usage is strictly reserved to men.

A wonderful rhythmic instrument, the calabash sistra is often integrated to percussion ensembles.
Found across most of sub-saharan Africa, the calabash sistra originates from East Africa. The calabash rings, slipped through a branch of the wooden fork, are placed by pairs, concave sides facing. This amplifies the sound when the sistra is shaken.

Originally used exclusively for circumcision ceremonies, it is sometimes heard during funerals. Its usage is strictly reserved to men.

A wonderful rhythmic instrument, the calabash sistra is often integrated to percussion ensembles.

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.

Calabash Sistra, Gabon

Description: Fifteen concave calabash rings are pierced and fitted through a bent V-shaped piece of branch, each ring fitted backside to backside, front to front. Ornaments etched by pyrography.

Function and use: Used during ceremonies, possibly of circumcision.

Photo: L.Bouvrette

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.


This instrument is played in the context of traditional ensembles, called
«medzang me yekaba», composed of four or five xylophones. It accompanies
secular songs and dances.

The size and number of blades varies from one xylophone to the next. The
portable xylophone's wooden blades rest on a frame which has calabash
resonators strapped underneath. Each xylophone plays a specific musical
role: the first is the leader, the melody player; the second, tuned higher, responds to the melodies with variations; the third, tuned lower, accompanies the melody by repeating a basic pattern; the fourth gives the fundamental notes upon which the melody is constructed; the fifth plays the bass notes and gives the rhythmic accompaniment.
Several rattles, bells and sometimes drums as well as singing may join the ensemble but the main musical core remains that of the rich and complex sounds of the medzang xylophones.

The medzang players, often travelling professional musicians, are invited to play during various festivities to accompany secular songs and dances as well as epic poetry.
This instrument is played in the context of traditional ensembles, called
«medzang me yekaba», composed of four or five xylophones. It accompanies
secular songs and dances.

The size and number of blades varies from one xylophone to the next. The
portable xylophone's wooden blades rest on a frame which has calabash
resonators strapped underneath. Each xylophone plays a specific musical
role: the first is the leader, the melody player; the second, tuned higher, responds to the melodies with variations; the third, tuned lower, accompanies the melody by repeating a basic pattern; the fourth gives the fundamental notes upon which the melody is constructed; the fifth plays the bass notes and gives the rhythmic accompaniment.
Several rattles, bells and sometimes drums as well as singing may join the ensemble but the main musical core remains that of the rich and complex sounds of the medzang xylophones.

The medzang players, often travelling professional musicians, are invited to play during various festivities to accompany secular songs and dances as well as epic poetry.

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.

Portable Medzong Xylophone, Gabon

Description: Nine wooden blades arranged in a keyboard, in a progressive trapezoidal pattern and fixated with laces to a wooden frame covered in fabric. Three calabash resonators of various size on the underside. Wooden arch rests on the musicians and keeps the instrument at a comfortable distance.

Function and usage: Integrated to xylophone ensembles tuned together, to which a mvet harp-zither may be integrated. Mostly used for dance repertory.

Photo: L.Bouvrette

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.


Originating from Gabon, the kadandzi is mostly used by the Téké people
even though the instrument is also found in Southern Gabon. It can be
played solo or as part of a kadandzi duo or trio. A rattle sometimes
accompanies the ensemble, mostly during the performance of secular songs.
Its sound can be modified by blocking an orifice located at the end of the
instrument.
Originating from Gabon, the kadandzi is mostly used by the Téké people
even though the instrument is also found in Southern Gabon. It can be
played solo or as part of a kadandzi duo or trio. A rattle sometimes
accompanies the ensemble, mostly during the performance of secular songs.
Its sound can be modified by blocking an orifice located at the end of the
instrument.

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.

Kadanzi Sanza, Gbon

Description: Arrow shaped keyboard with 13 tongues resting on two metal lateral bars fixated to a wooden box resonator. The box resonator is pierced to amplify the sound and the tongues are fitted with vibrating metal rings.

Function and usage: Associated to intimate and meditative repertoire

Photo: L.Bouvrette

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.


Between the XVIth and the XIXth century, millions of africans, mostly of the Bantu people, are deported to Brazil and sold as slaves to work in plantations. African culture in Brazil is very important, particularly in religion, liturgy, cuisine and music.

The berimbau, a musical bow, is the only melodic instrument of Brazil that has kept its original shape. The instrument, which has been used for two hundred years, is still gaining in popularity in Brazil, particularly in the Bahia region of the north.

With his right hand, the berimbau player hits the string with a stick at various heights of the bow while shaking a small straw rattle called caxixi. He holds the instrument with his left hand, while sometimes slightly touching the string with a coin to produce higher harmonics. Sound is amplified by the calabash which is held against the abdomen.

Between the XVIth and the XIXth century, millions of africans, mostly of the Bantu people, are deported to Brazil and sold as slaves to work in plantations. African culture in Brazil is very important, particularly in religion, liturgy, cuisine and music.

The berimbau, a musical bow, is the only melodic instrument of Brazil that has kept its original shape. The instrument, which has been used for two hundred years, is still gaining in popularity in Brazil, particularly in the Bahia region of the north.

With his right hand, the berimbau player hits the string with a stick at various heights of the bow while shaking a small straw rattle called caxixi. He holds the instrument with his left hand, while sometimes slightly touching the string with a coin to produce higher harmonics. Sound is amplified by the calabash which is held against the abdomen.

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.

Birimbao

Description: Metallic string held between the ends on a wooden bow. Resonator made from a calabash, fixated by a string. Decorative bows attached to the instrument. Extra string inside the calabash.

Photo: L.Bouvrette

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.


The berimbau is mostly used in the Bahia state of Northern Brazil, as the main accompaniment to the capoïera, dansed fighting from Angola imported to Brazil in the XVIIth and XIXth century. More a display of agility than a true combat, it requires great dexterity and timing from the opponents. Supervised in the past by masters, the capoïera served both initiative and play purposes to young boys. It has greatly contributed to the integration of black populations in brazilian societies, since, contrarily to other ritual practices, the danced combat was accepted by both the clergy as well as landowners.
The berimbau is mostly used in the Bahia state of Northern Brazil, as the main accompaniment to the capoïera, dansed fighting from Angola imported to Brazil in the XVIIth and XIXth century. More a display of agility than a true combat, it requires great dexterity and timing from the opponents. Supervised in the past by masters, the capoïera served both initiative and play purposes to young boys. It has greatly contributed to the integration of black populations in brazilian societies, since, contrarily to other ritual practices, the danced combat was accepted by both the clergy as well as landowners.

© Laboratoire de recherche sur les musiques du monde, Université de Montréal 2002.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • participate in music activities from a variety of historical, cultural, and social contexts;
  • compare and contrast two different types of music instruments;
  • demonstrate respect for music of various cultural contexts.

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