One of the most common misconceptions about indigenous African music, is that the instruments used in it amount to little more than a few varieties of drums. However, archaeological and historical findings suggest that traditional African music has made use of a wide variety of wind, percussion and string instruments.
The musical sounds created by these instruments have served a variety of purposes over the centuries. Whilst they were of course, used in a recreational setting, and often as an accompaniment to dancing, items such as the lamella-phone have also been used in ritualistic ancestor worship by the Shona of Zimbabwe. Additionally, the Lesiba mouth bow has been used as a means of soothing cattle, and encouraging them to graze more frequently.
Those who are familiar with this genre of music, like Tunde Folawiyo, may know that percussion instruments feature frequently in compositions, with the mbira and the balafon being particularly popular. The former is sometimes called a ‘thumb piano’, as it is the thumbs, rather than the fingers, which are used to press down on the instrument’s wooden or metal tongs. The latter is a pitched instrument, consisting of bars which are usually made from bamboo or logs, and is similar, in many ways, to a xylophone.
Traditional string instruments include variations on the zither, harp and lute, with the kora being one of the most well-known. This is an elegant-looking harp with many strings and a long neck, which is frequently employed by those performing religious songs. It is quite an advanced instrument, which can be used to play highly complex compositions, at great speeds.
As a fan of indigenous African music, Tunde Folawiyo might be aware that wind instruments often take the form of animal horns. The Kudu, for example, is made from the Kudu antelope, and consists of a six horns of varying sizes. The sound which it produces is uniquely African, with a mellow warmth which many music fans love. Ensembles of horn wind instruments are very common in African countries, as almost any kind of pentatonic melody can be played on them.
One of the more unusual instruments used in indigenous compositions is the Akadinda. This enormous piece is a shared instrument, which can be played by up to six people at once. The players sit opposite one another, and use wooden sticks to create harmonising sounds. Whilst it is sometimes used by traditional performers in central African countries, it has become associated with the Bagunda people of Uganda.