African Roots of the Banjo

Most people associate the banjo with bluegrass music or with the culture of the rural South of the United States.  But if you dig a bit deeper, it appears that the banjo has African roots.  In fact, most scholars and music historians trace the banjo back to amazing, creative “banjo ancestors” found in various regions of Africa.

If you’d like to learn more about the cross-cultural travels of the banjo, check out the resources below.

           

NPR Reconsiders The Roots of The Banjo

In a short podcast, NPR’s Greg Allen tells to story of Gambian musician, Laemouahuma Daniel Jatta and his banjo-like akonting.  The akonting has three strings, a long neck as a fretboard and a main sounding area made from a gourd stretched with goatskin.  Jatta, who learned the instrument from his father, belong to the Jola people and the similarities of this instrument to modern American banjos are explored in this short audio podcast with great photos and a striking Youtube video.

The Banjo’s Roots Reconsidered

http://www.npr.org/2011/08/23/139880625/the-banjos-roots-reconsidered

Bela Fleck’s Throw Down Your Heart

Acclaimed US banjo player, Bela Fleck was so intrigued with the banjo’s roots that he took a trip to Africa to make his own comparisons.  The result was a documentary called “Throw Down Your Heart” which follows Bela’s journey and offers interviews with African master musicians as well as plenty of jam sessions between instruments.  The short excerpt below gives you a taste of this cross-cultural banjo experience.

African “Banjo” Music and Bluegrass

Want to compare African “banjo” music and bluegrass?  Here’s Banjo Bloggers list of top 10 songs that can illustrate bluegrass banjo music.  Checking out these tunes can show you some striking similarities and differences between the musical styles of both continents.

http://banjoblogger.com/?p=125

 

It’s A Caxixi!

caxixis 4 lying downCaxixi (pronounced ka-shee-shee) rattles are beautifully woven, small, hand percussion instruments that can be found in Africa and South America.  These simple rattles have a flat piece on the bottom originally made from a dried gourd.  Modern caxixis can have plastic or metal bottoms as well.  The rest of the rattle is a woven “basket” that holds small items which create the sound when it is shaken. The basket area is made of pliable fiber and can be one color or beautiful patterns of colors woven together.  Some caxixis have two baskets attached to one handle.

Although this instrument may look quite simple, a caxixi rattle can make a wide variety of sounds.  You can shake the contents against the softer side of the woven rattle for one sound or against the harder bottom part for another tone.  Skilled percussionists can create some really intricate rhythms with caxixis and they are often used by singers in West Africa when performing with a drum group.  In Brazil, the caxixi is often seen creating the percussion sound for a unique stringed instrument called a birembau.

On modern jazz recordings, you can frequently hear the caxixi played by Brazilian percussionist, vocalist and berimbau player, Naná Vasconcelos.

Make Your Own Caxixi

If you are up for some serious crafting, a Brazilian site called Soul Capoeira shows you how to make real caxixis from fiber and gourds at the post below.  If you’d like to try an easier version from recycled materials – a great project for kids – check out the post from Tiny Tapping Toes, below.

During the month of August 2013, you can win a caxixi rattle in an easy Rafflecopter contest here:

http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php

Links

Soul Capoeira’s Make Your Own Caxixi Post – From Reeds or Rattan and Gourd Shells

http://soulcapoeira.org/music/how-to-make-a-caxixi/

Make Your Own Caxixi From Recycled Materials

http://www.tinytappingtoes.com/uncategorized/make-your-own-woven-caxixi-rattle/

Boing, Boing, Boing…It’s a Jaw Harp!

Although the jaw harp is a rather simple-looking instrument, it has quite a long and interesting history dating back at least the 4th century BC where it appears as a musical instrument in a Chinese drawing.  It can be found throughout Asia and in various cultures around the world and has a host of different names including mouth harp, Ozark harp, juice harp, Jew’s harp, jew’s harp, trump, drymba, doromb, khomus, kubyz and quote a few more that vary according to the culture and type of music where it is being played.

Check out the wide variety of jaw harps seen here from the home page of the Jew’s Harp Guild website (used by permission).

Is the jaw harp related to Jewish culture since it is sometimes called a jew’s harp?  Most historians think the phrase “jew’s harp” is a mispronounciation of one of its popular names as it is not found within Jewish folk music or Semetic cultures at all.  It is; however, frequently used in ritual practice and shamanic music.  The droning sound of the instrument can create a trance-like state and is widely used in regions of Asia in this manner.

PLAYING A JAW HARP

A jaw harp consists of two parts.  There’s a frame held inside the mouth and a “tongue” piece that is plucked outside the mouth by the musician’s finger.  Although this might sound easy, there are many techniques used in playing the instrument and some require a good deal of practice to master.

Here’s a few hints that can help the new jaw harp player:

When putting the harp in your mouth the upper and lower lips should rest on the top and bottom of the frame, the front teeth must be slightly apart.

Try plucking the harp by pushing or pulling.  While the “tongue piece” is in motion, silently pronounce “A-E-I-O-U”. This shows you how to create different sounds by changing the size of your mouth cavity.

Breathing in different ways and moving your tongue slightly also changes the sounds created by the jaw harp.  Experimenting with this will allow you to find different ways to create your own music on this unique instrument.

What does a jaw harp sound like?   Check out these three very different examples of jaw harp music from Mongolia, India and Hungary.  

THREE AWESOME JAW HARP VIDEOS

Mongolian shaman playing jaw harp

Mongolian Shaman Playing Jaw Harp from Lauren Knapp on Vimeo.

Jaw harp in India

harp-guy

Woman Musician at Hungarian jaw harp festival

RESOURCES

The photo of an assortment of jaw harps seen above is used by permission from the Jew’s Harp Guild who also publish an excellent step-by-step player’s guide as well as tips for advanced players.  Check out their resource-rich site here:

www.jewsharpguild.org/

 

Vuvuzelas – The Horn That Is Loved (And Hated) All Over The World!

Although this horn originated in South Africa, it seems to have found it’s way all over the planet – especially where soccer fans want to cheer on their team.   One South African fan claims he fabricated the original vuvuzela from a metal bicycle horn, but since that time you can see many different versions made from a variety of materials, including some pretty creative homemade horns such as some of the ones seen here.

We’re grateful to the Media Club South Africa for sharing these many images of how different cultures have adopted, altered or welcomed this unique instrument into their world.

Above: A vuvuzela playing a duet with a Slovakian wind instrument called the fujara.

Above left:  A homemade vuvuzela decorated in team colors played by a child in São José dos 
Campos, Brazil.

Above right: A dad and daughter in Seoul, South Korea watch their team at the 2010 Fifa World Cup match.

Below left: Even Spiderman loves the vuvuzela! Photo from Berlin, Germany, 2010 Fifa World Cup 
quarterfinals.

Below right:  A soccer fan from Uruguay plays his homemade version of a vuvuzela as his team beats Ghana in the 2010 Fifa World Cup 
match.

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During June 2013, you can win a vuvuzela on DARIA’s monthly song page here:

http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php

You can also find easy directions to make your own from recycled materials here:

http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Vuvuzela.pdf

What is a Vuvuzela?

The vuvuzela has been called the most annoying or irritating instrument in the world.  Originating in South Africa, this loud collapsible horn became popular at soccer matches – especially the World Cup 2010 – and has since spread to countries all over the globe

Although it’s roots are not certain, many historians believe it was inspired by the horn of a kudu (antelope) and early versions were used to call villagers to community gatherings.  The word “vuvuzela” is a bit of a mystery.  Some people trace it to a Zulu phrase meaning “to make a vuvu sound”.  However one South African soccer fan named Freddie “Saddam” Maake feels he invented this unique creation by fabricating one from an aluminum bicycle horn and he identifies the word vuvuzela as coming from Zulu words meaning “welcome”, “unite” and “celebration.” Another group, the Nazareth Baptist Church in South Africa, has evidence that the vuvuzela was used as part of their worship before it became universally popular in the soccer stadiums.

So why do people love or hate this horn?  Well, first of all, it’s loud.  In fact, some sporting events and other venues and locations  have banned the horns.  Experts agree that being too close to one played at full volume for an extended period of time can cause noise-induced hearing loss.  Secondly, they only make one note and can drone on, although some serious players claim they can get a variation in sound by playing the vuvuzela like a didgeridoo.

Can you make your own version of a vuvuzela that won’t be as loud as it’s soccer match cousins?  Yes!  Check out the pdf below to find a craft activity that uses recycled materials to make your own homemade version. http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Vuvuzela.pdf

Want to hear one?  Check out Vuvuzela Radio at the link below where you can hear a vuvuzela proudly proclaiming it’s one note,  24/7!

http://www.vuvuzela.fm/

Photo Credits:  Image of a boy playing vuvuzela and a South African Stadium worker playing a vuvuzela in the World Cup stadium in South Africa (above) are courtesy of MediaClubSouthAfrica.com.  This outstanding website shares a wealth of information about all aspects of South African life, arts, history, travel and tourism and can be found at:

http://www.mediaclubsouthafrica.com

Chapchas – A Rattle Made From The Toenails of Goats!

Chapchas are a truly unique rattle that originated in the Andes of South America.  Made from the discarded hooves of goats or sheep strung onto a bracelet, this instrument is heard in much of the folk music of Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Ecuador and other countries of this region.

How are chapchas made?  After the hooves are clipped and boiled to sterilize them, a needle is inserted into the upper part of the nails making a small hole.  The hooves are then strung or sewn onto a colorful piece of fabric and each one of the dried hooves rattles against the others creating the sound of the instrument.

Why do Andean people use these unusual items as part of their musical instruments?  The answer is simple.  If you visit some of the remote villages in the high Andes, you’ll see that there are a minimum number of plants, no trees and few other materials that can be used to create instruments.  Essentially everything is used, recycled or reused as part of lifestyle in the high mountains.  And that includes the toenails of goats!

Although all cultures in the world make music, learning about unique instruments like the chapchas can be a great way to explore world cultures through music.  You can hear chapchas as part of DARIA’s latest album of songs from the Andes and you can also color an image of this unique rattle at the link below.

Resources And Links

Free Chapchas Coloring Page from Teachers Pay Teachers:

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Color-The-Chapchas-An-Instrument-from-The-Andes-650050

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes On Itunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cancioncitas-los-andes-little/id602798167

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes on Amazon mp3

http://amzn.com/B00BG9ABEE

You can buy fair trade chapchas from Bolivia in DARIA’s Little Village Store:

http://dariasvillagestore.storenvy.com/products/178859-goat-toe-nail-rattle-chapchas

World Fair Trade Day – A Great Time To Explore Musical Instruments from Around The World

Almost everyone can relate to this.

They’ve had a job for which they were underpaid or underappreciated.  Well, picture that in a third world setting where people have few employment options.  They work in dirty, unsafe conditions with unreasonable work hours and sometimes cannot protest or complain without fear of retribution or brutality.  The recent fires in Bangladesh clothing factories have highlighted how the worst of these unfair practices can create deadly and tragic results.

Is there an alternative?  Especially if people want to purchase special items from other cultures, such as clothing, chocolate, coffee or musical instruments like these beautiful handbells from Nepal?  Yes, there is fair trade!  And May 11th marks World Fair Trade Day, so it’s a good time to learn more about this important topic.  You can check out the 10 principles of fair trade below.

One of my favorite fair trade stores was started by a Mennonite woman in the 1940’s named Edna Ruth Byler.  She knew that if people in third world nations or village settings could do what they loved such as traditional arts and crafts and they were sold at fair prices, then these people could live with dignity and keep vibrant, safe communities alive.  She named her project: “Self-Help Crafts Of The World”.  Over 60 years later, the store is now called Ten Thousand Villages and has numerous physical locations as well as an online store for purchases.

What does Ten Thousand Villages sell?  It has an amazing array of handcrafts, jewelry, coffees, teas, soaps and other items.  And musical instruments.  You can find rainsticks from Chile and colorful folded palm rattles made in India.  They offer delicate tingsha bells and beautiful singing bowls in a variety of shapes and sizes.  There are gourd rattles, kalimbas (pictured here) and drums from Africa, ocarinas and whistles from South America and an ever-changing array of products that have been purchased and certified fair trade.  For most items, you can read the story behind the artisans as well as how and where each object was created.

This year on World Fair Trade Day, I’ll be at my local Ten Thousand Village store sharing the magic of singing bowls – how each one is different and unique and can be used to create beautiful sound as well as for healing purposes.  If you can’t get to one of these stores, feel free to visit them online and consider purchasing some of the wonderful goods that they offer.

Purchasing “fair trade” makes a difference for the planet, not only in the lives of an artisan, but because it makes a statement.  It’s great to know that we can vote with our dollars for a world that treats everyone with dignity and respect!  And if you purchase an instrument “fair trade”, you’re contributing to world harmony – in more ways than one!

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During the month of May 2013, you can win this beautiful rainstick made by a cooperative of artisans in Santiago de Chile.  (2nd give-away on page)

http://www.dariamusic.com/monthly_song.php

Resources And Links

World Fair Trade Organization

http://www.wfto.com/

10 Principles of Fair Trade

http://www.wfto.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2&Itemid=14

Ten Thousand Villages – Home Page

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/

Musical Instruments From Ten Thousand Villages

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/products/musical-instruments

Two Easy Musical Crafts And 16 Activities For Cinco De Mayo Fun!

Mexican flagA friend of mine recently did a post for Babble titled: Cinco De Mayo, Beyond Donkeys and Sombreros.  It was a wonderful article offering 16 great ways to get beyond stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican culture and have fun while learning with kids.

The post includes easy outdoor games the require no special supplies such as “Mar y Tierra” (Sea and Earth) as well as simple instructions for making an easy piñata, a woven “God’s Eye” or discovering the works of Mexican artist, Diego Rivera, among others.  All great ways of moving beyond stereotypes to real projects and activities that provide more authentic ways to celebrate culture and discover diversity.

Included in Mari’s post is one of my crafts that shows how to make a homemade guiro.  A guiro can be used to accompany almost any type of music from Mexico or to learn a new song or two from this region such as De Colores or Cielito Lindo.  Along with using homemade and real maracasrecycled materials to create a colorful homemade guiro, you can also collect small water bottles and create an easy, child-safe version of maracas, another instrument heard throughout Mexican, Central America and Latin American music.

Here’s how to find Mari’s activity-filled post as well as detailed instructions on how to make your own maracas and guiros, plus other related links.

Wishing you all a happy 5 de Mayo!

Cinco De Mayo Links

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 3.25.47 PM16 Crafts And Activities To Help You Celebrate Cinco De Mayo Beyond Donkeys and Sombreros By Mari Hernandez-Tuten

http://www.babble.com/latina/celebrating-cinco-de-mayo-beyond-sombreros-and-donkeys/

Make Your Own Guiro

http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Guiro.php

Make Your Own Maracas

http://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/make-some-marvelous-maracas/

la cucaracha smile(2)A Silly Video to the Mexican Song – La Cucaracha!

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yfka9m6NhzE

A Video of the Mexican Song – La Bamba

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGICzWLJ5Qg&list=UUImOHUJ3bk2yKXh4iaieKVQ&index=7

All About The Song – La Bamba

http://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/lets-dance-tola-bamba/

Zampoñas – The Panpipes of the Andes

quena on whiteAlthough you can find this type of instrument in several locations around the globe, zampoñas from the Andes mountains of South America have a beautiful, breathy sound that can be heard playing some of the most haunting melodies on the planet.  And since there are so many variations of this simple instrument, exploring zampoñas can be a great way to learn more about the geography, culture and music of this region of South America

Zampoñas (pronounced zam pon nyas) are a series of hollow “pipes” made from hollow reeds found near lakes in the high mountains.  When these reeds are cut and used one at a time, they often become simple flutes such as the quena pictured here. When the reeds are cut to different lengths and bound together in a flat or slightly curved arrangement, they become part of the the large family of panpipes that can be played solo or in a group. Also called siku or sikuri, many festivals feature groups of men playing together – called sikuriada – where the song is performed by alternating notes back and forth between the players while they walk.

sicuriada en las plazaPlaying the zampoñas is a bit different than many common wind instruments.  Various sounds are created by blowing over the top of the reeds in the same way you might blow over an empty soda bottle to create a musical note.  Although understanding all the different names of zampoñas can be complicated, here’s some basic facts.  The word zampoña is Spanish.  In the Native language of Aymara, panpipes are called siku or sicuri.  In the Native language of Quechua, panpipes are called “Antara”.  In Quechua, the family of panpipes include Ika or Chulli (or Ch’ulli) that are about the size of a fist.  The next largest size are called “mallta”.  One octave lower than “mallta” are the “sanka” (or zanka).  And the largest – sometimes three or four feet long – are called “toyo”.  Just as the names change from village to village and region to region, the manner of playing is also wonderfully unique, making this an instrument that will never cease to amaze those who wish to explore it or learn to play it.

Would you like to listen to this instrument, color one or make your own version at home or in class?  Check out some of the helpful links below.

Resources and Links

Zampoñas Coloring Page

http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/Zamponas%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

Make Your Own Zamponas Activity

http://www.dariamusic.com/docs/MYO%20Zamponas%20Final.pdf

A Child’s Life In The Andes – A 35 Page Book about Music and Culture of This Region

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/A-Childs-Life-In-The-Andes-E-Book

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes – On Itunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cancioncitas-los-andes-little/id602798167

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes on Amazon mp3

http://amzn.com/B00BG9ABEE

Make Your Own Rainstick

cactus rainstick 1AHave you ever heard a rainstick?  It’s a long, mainly hollow tube that makes a quiet sound when tilted from side to side, very much like running water or gentle rain.

What Makes The Rainstick Sound?

pieces of dried chola cacturOriginally rainsticks were made of natural materials such as the dried lengths of the chola cactus. These long “arms” of dried cacti have small spikes inside so when they are filled with pebbles, seeds or small objects, the contents can’t easily swish back and forth.  Instead, the seeds, pebbles or beads gently fall between the spikes creating the unique sound associated with the rainstick.  You often see these instruments in South America in countries such as Chile or in the American Southwest, where these cacti are plentiful.

two homemade rainsticksMake A Mailing Tube Rainstick

Since most people don’t have dried cacti in their recycling bin, here’s a way you can reuse an old mailing tube or poster container and still make a great-sounding instrument.  If you can’t find one of these at home, ask around.  Chances are good your recycling needs can be met by a neighbor or family friend and you can save one more object from getting into the waste stream!

Creating The Rainstick Effect

To turn a mailing tube into a rainstick, you need to find a way to create an obstruction – something that will block the materials inside from falling at one time.  In bamboo or gourd rainsticks, a series of wooden spikes are used.  Instead of that approach, we’ll create a wire “maze” using a combination of floral wire/jewelry wire (or any lightweight wire) and pipecleaners.

Twisted wire ready to be placed inside the mailing tube

Cut a length of wire about two to three times the length of the tube. If you cover the ends with a bit of tape, it’s easy for a child to help scrunch the wire up giving it many twists and turns in a way that will still fit inside the diameter of the tube.  Then, twist in some pipecleaners cut in half, throughout the length of your tangled wire.  All these things will help catch the contents as they go from side to side to create the pleasing “falling water” effect.

Tune Your Rainstick

The sound of your rainstick will vary greatly depending on what you decide to put into it as well as how much of that item you choose to add.  For a quieter rainstick, use smaller objects such as seed beads, birdseed or tiny pasta such as pastina or acini de pepe.  Slightly louder are objects like rice, dried lentils, small buttons or paper clips.   Even louder are larger dried beans, pebbles, marbles or any large macaroni.

maraca-contentsHere’s a good way of “tuning” your rainstick. Have several bowls of contents nearby.  Close one end of your rainstick and add the contents.  Seal the other end and try the sound.  Dump it back into your bowl and try another.  What sound is most pleasing to you?  Or mix and match contents.  It’s a fun way of experimenting with sound to discover what sounds best to your ear.

Once you’ve decided on the perfect sound for your rainstick, there are lots of creative ways to decorate the outside of the instrument.  You can color with crayons or permanent markers, create stripes from colorful tape, or even decoupage photos or magazine pictures onto the tube. You can paint a coat of glue on the rainstick and slowly wind different colors of yard around it.  You can also cut squares or small pieces of fabric, cover them with a layer of glue and create a quilt or collage effect for a beautiful handmade rainstick.  Feel free to get creative and make something that is truly unique!

Play Your Rainstick

Rainsticks are most often played by simply turning them upside down.  However, you can also hold them horizontally and shake the contents back and forth like a rattle or shake the stick as the contents fall producing some nice variations in ways to play this simple but versatile instrument!