African Music Instruments

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The use of instruments is essential to African music; its unique instruments are therefore a significant characteristic to consider. Many instruments are employed in African music, and differ per ethnic group. However, several instruments are common among all Sub-Saharan African countries including the talking drum, xylophones and the mbira.

5.1 Drums

Drums are one of the primary African instruments. Differing in size and shape, the specific drums used within particular cultures is largely dependent on the materials available to produce instruments. Drums are essential to political and religious ceremonies, and are also used as accompaniment to dancing and regulating the pace of work. (Ewens 1991: 22; Kamien n.d.)

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Attached to the sound box is a rattle which maintains a steady pulse. The mbira dza vadzimu music has a minimum of two parts, which overlap and interlock to create complex polyrhythms. (Kamien; Miller & Shahriari 2012: 357.)

5.3 Xylophones

Xylophones are among the most significant and common instruments of Sub-Saharan Africa. A melodic instrument, it consists of pre-tuned keys which are hit with mallets to produce sound. Various types of xylophones are found in Africa, including those with free-floating keys. However the most common is that with hardwood keys attached to a framework, with a calabash resonator attached beneath each key, and is most notable in Mozambique where it is known as a tsimbila. Xylophone performances combine polyrhythm with melodic pitches to create highly complex music. (Ewens 1991: 20, 21–22; Miller & Shahriari 2012: 361.)

In Uganda, a type of xylophone known as the akadinda can be found. Performances require a substantial interlocking of parts to create a dense polyrhythmic structure. The akadinda is closely related to the amadinda, another type of xylophone common in Uganda and nearby regions. However, the amadinda is used in less formal contexts, with performances that are less complex than those of the akadinda. (Miller & Shahriari 2012:

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