6 original African instruments that are a blessing to music around the world

Etsey Atisu June 14, 2019
A traditional African music troupe/Commons

The first time in history when the compass of the World Cup fell on Africa and the entire world turned its eyes towards the host country South Africa, one unique feature of the Mundial that people still remember is its music.

The vuvuzela, also known as lepatata, came into the spotlight and while it was argued widely that the use of this reverberating horn was more of a nuisance to the ear than sweet sound, it established one undeniable fact: Africa understands music.

The Vuvuzela/T-Online

And even so, for the host country, South Africa – a country synonymous with music, the vuvuzela fever gave it some really good history to fall on and gave the world another instrument to hold on to from the continent.

Today, the spotlight falls on the doorsteps of Africa and the various instruments the continent has given the rest of the world to produce unique sounds and music.

The Guitar (Krar Harp)

Krar Harp/Pinterest

Some of the earliest forms of the guitar are found in Ethiopia where it is known as Krar Harp. In India, there also exists the Sitar, another one of the earlier forms of guitar.

The Krar Harp or one of its variations later developed into the guitarro, the direct ancestor of the guitar which was used widely in ancient Mauritania, later known as the Maghreb, the Sahel and Guinea.

Guitarro was introduced to Spain by African Moors in the 9th century AD. They used it for their music and soon the whole of Spain, southern Italy, southern France, became avid acolytes of the guitarro culture.

The Banjo

A four-string banjo/Gear4Music

This musical instrument was invented and widely used in ancient Mauritania, The Sahel and the Coast of Guinea. It is similar to the Akoting, which is found in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea Bissau (all in West Africa).

The akoting is believed to have given birth to the modern-day banjo. According to oral history, the birthplace of the instrument is the village of Kanjanka in Senegal. It has a skin-headed gourd body, with two long melody strings and one drone string. 


Credit: qoo10

From the family of the idiophone, although used globally, a large number of these instruments originate from Africa and are known by different names, such as agidigbo, kisanji, sanza, and the Caribbean marimbula. Recorded in written history as early as the 16th century, variants of these instruments are also found in Siberia. The marimbulla variant is sometimes also used in hip-hop music.


Credit: Yagbe Onilu

The balafon is played like the xylophone, but it is a percussion instrument and can be found in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Burkina Faso. It has been in recorded history since the 14th century and according to oral history (told by griots), the instrument originated from Mali. 

Balafon means the “act of playing the Bala,” with “Balan” corresponding to the instrument, while “fo” a verb meaning “to play” in the Malinke language. A Balafon is generally capable of producing 18 to 21 notes, though some are built to produce many fewer notes.


Ekwe/Motherland Music

Variants of these drums can be found in Zaire (alimba), Igbo (ekwe), Congo (mukoku or lokole) and the Guinea (krin or kolokos). The ‘drum’ is made from hollowed-out tree trunks, with rectangular slits cut into the top, and it comes in various sizes, depending on the use it is meant for. 


Djember Drum/DhGate

A goblet-shaped drum, covered with skin and tuned by ropes, the djembe originates from West Africa and has been traced to the Mandinka caste of blacksmiths known as the Numu. The musical instrument spread across the west coast of Africa with the rise of the Mali Empire (1230 AD), now the modern day countries of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and the Gambia.


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