The Veena – An Instrument Fit For A Goddess!

indian-goddess-veenaAlthough it may look a bit like a sitar, the Indian veena (or vina) is a unique instrument that dates back at least to 1,500 BCE and has its own distinctive place in Hindustani as well as the Carnatic style South Indian music. A person who plays the veena is known as a vainika.

Mentioned throughout ancient texts such as Bhagavata, the veena is often seen being held by Saraswati, the Hindu patron Goddess of learning and the arts. The Goddess is usually depicted seated on a swan and playing the instrument. In addition to Saraswati, Lord Shiva is also depicted as playing or holding a veena in a form known as a Vinadhara,” meaning “bearer of the vina.”


The modern veena (seen above) has quite a few variations as it evolved throughout various regions and playing styles. Generally, a modern veena is a beautifully constructed plucked stringed instrument that is about four feet in length. It has 7 strings, can be fretted or fretless and has a gourd-like resonator, like the sitar. The vainika plays while seated cross-legged and the instrument is tilted slightly away from the player. The veena can be used to play both classical Indian music or contemporary musical songs or themes.

In addition to the modern veena, there is also an ancient veena which is related to the Burmese harp. Arched harps; like the ancient veena, appeared in the artwork of ancient Egypt and India and were also found widely throughout Southeastern Asia and East Africa.

Links and Resources

SRUTI India Music and Dance Society (Philadelphia, PA USA)

Dhvani – India Performing Arts Society of Central Ohio (USA)

Instruments of India – Kids Mini-Course

Sitar Poster And Coloring Page

What Is Your State Song?


If you live in the USA, you probably know that your state has a state bird, a state flag and a state flower. But did you know it has a state song as well?

You could probably guess that “Carry Me Back To Old Virginia” written in 1878 by James Allen Bland was the state song of Virginia. But would you expect Yankee Doodle to be the state song of Connecticut? Or Swanee (Way Down Upon The Swanee River) by Stephen Foster to be the Florida state anthem?

Then there are some states, like Tennessee, that are so musically inclined they have multiple tunes as official and unofficial anthems. Tennessee has the Tennessee Waltz, Rocky Top, plus 4 other noteworthy songs associated with their state.

state-songs-iconDo you know your state song? Visit this link to find out:

Related Posts

National Instruments From Countries Around The World

Preserving Music and Culture in Saharawi Refugee Camps

Ethnomusicologist & Project Leader Violeta Ruano writes about Stave House in the Sahara early childhood music education project and the socio-cultural landscape of the Saharawi refugee camps in Southwest Algeria.

Anywhere I go, few people know what on earth I am talking about when I mention that I teach music in refugee camps in the middle of the Sahara desert. Wait, what? Refugees? Western Sahara, is that a country? But are they Algerians? Nevertheless, despite being rather unknown, the Saharawi is one of the longest protracted refugee stories in Africa. The country where these refugees come from, ex-Spanish colony Western Sahara, is still pending decolonization since Morocco annexed it to its territory after Spain left in early 1976, forcing more than half of the population to flee and seek refuge in the nearby harsh Algerian desert. And there, daily battling with extreme temperatures, sandstorms, dust and lack of resources, the resilient Saharawis have been building their own nation in exile for the past 40 years.

stave campView of the Saharawi refugee camp of Boujdour, by Violeta Ruano

One of the most important survival strategies for the Saharawis has precisely been to preserve and bolster their traditional oral culture, which has always had music at its heart. Closely linked to the musical traditions of other parts of West Africa, especially Mauritania, traditional Saharawi music combines powerful poetry in Hassaniya – their local Arabic dialect – with a musical system based on modes, usually sung accompanied by instruments such as the tidinit (lute) and the tbal (drum). Throughout the past decades, the Saharawis have introduced many changes to their music, including revolutionary lyrics documenting their struggle and new instruments such as the electric guitar and the keyboards.

In addition, the Saharawis have also worked hard to provide as many varied educational opportunities for their children and youth to grow strong and independent. Since 1976, they have joined international grant schemes, built and managed local primary and professional schools, and supported a vast number of collaboration projects such as children’s libraries, art residencies, film festivals, concerts and much more. Stave House in the Sahara, officially launched last February 2016, is one of the newest additions to this list.

This project consists on the facilitation – and by facilitation we mean working collaboratively, without impositions – of early childhood music education through the English language in primary schools in the camps. Our methodology aims (we’re still developing it!) to combine oral traditions with innovative and fun music teaching method Stave House (, which has already been successfully implemented in many schools around the world. This method is based around captivating stories and light and portable teaching materials; it doesn’t need electricity nor fancy equipment, which is ideal for the living conditions in the camps.

stave children

Between March and April 2016 I worked alongside 3 Saharawi teachers – Gejmula Mohamed, Fatimetu Melainin and Tekwen Mohamed – to develop lesson plans and activities that link in with and enhance the Saharawi children’s daily study routines, while teaching a pilot project with a group of 30 children. It has been wonderful to see the children thrive with the stories in the lessons while learning basic music concepts and a few useful words in English. Apart from the music curriculum, we also aim to develop a full English language course that draws on poetry, stories, and song lyrics.

Stave House in the Sahara has a simple, but very powerful idea at heart – every child should be able to experience the joys of making music (any music!) no matter the circumstances.

Stave House in the Sahara is a collaborative partnership between Stave House, British charity Sandblast, the London College of Music, the Saharawi Ministries of Culture and Education, and the primary school of Lal Andala, in the refugee camp of Boujdour (although we hope to be reaching other schools soon!). If you want to get involved, visit our recently launched JustGiving fundraising campaign, and please consider making a contribution if you can!

Find general information about the Stave House here:

 Or check out their “sponsor a child” campaign where you can give a year’s worth of music education to a child in the refugee camp:

Rocking Icelandic Music – From Inside A Volcano

There’s a new band from Iceland that’s recently been getting a lot of well-deserved attention.  Mixing their own original rock-oriented music with traditional Icelandic songs, this group of 4 friends from the town of Mosfellsbaer; near Reykjavik, is taking the world by storm.  And shaking the foundations of the Earth.  By performing inside a volcano.  Yes, you read that right.  Their last video took about 26 hours to shoot and was filmed inside the Prihnukagigur volcano, which thankfully has not erupted in the last 4,000 years.

You can see the video shot of the song “Way Down We Go” here.


And if that song sounds familar, there’s a good reason.  Its been used widely in television programs such as HBO’s The Leftovers, NBC’s Game of Silence, Fox’s Empire as well as for FIFA 2016. But the song that’s most caught our ear is their haunting cover of an Icelandic ballad titled ‘Vor í vaglaskógi’. Says band leader, Julius:  “It’s a love story between a couple.  What’s beautiful about it is really how it describes a moment. This spring night that they’re having in this forest. And how they describe the nature and everything that’s going around on this beautiful spring or summer night. I think that really lead people to start listening to our other songs and discovering the band itself.”

You can hear Kaleos studio version of that song along with a video montage of Icelandic images, here:

Is Kaleo a multicultural phenomenon?  Although from Icelandic roots, they chose a name that means “the sound” in Hawaiian and have relocated to Austin, Texas in the United States to prepare for recording more music and touring. Members of the group include bandleader, Julius Son, David Antonsson (drums), Daniel Kristjansson (bass) and Rubin Pollock (guitar). For more information on the band plus schedules for upcoming shows, check out the official Kaleo website at

The Irish Music Daily – All Things Irish From A Musical Point-Of-View

Irish Music Daily iconAlthough St. Patrick’s Day is a time when the world’s attention is drawn to all things Irish, there’s a resource-rich online site called The Irish Music Daily that’s dedicated to sharing and promoting Irish music year-round.  The Irish Daily shares lyrics and chords for popular Irish songs as well as news and articles about Irish musical figures both older and upcoming.  Recent posts cover popular musical sensations such as U2, Enya, Celtic Thunder and beloved Irish flutist, James Galway.  Aside from block-buster talent,  there’s also a great section called “Showcase” that spotlights amazing new talents and interpreters of Irish music from countries all over the world.

Even if you’re already a fan or devotee of Irish music, this site provides you with so much information, you’ll want to bookmark it and return often. Here are some of our favorite links from that site:

Irish Performers Choose Their Favorite Songs For St. Patrick’s Day

Who’s Who and Who’s New in Playing and Interpreting Irish Music Around The World

Top Irish Musicians And Instrumentalists

Links and Related Resources


playing on bodhran at a traditional session

MYO Bodhran and Tipper tutorial:

Whistle a Merry Tune – With A Tin Whistle

Morris Dancing Bells For Kids

Easy Introduction to 10 Irish Instruments

Irish Videos on Multicultural Kids Music Vids

Modern Rock Songs from China

Omnipotent Youth

Can you imagine impassioned rock songs in modern Chinese Popular culture?  Tyson Gibb just did a great blog post with his 10 top rock songs from China along with translations and language suggestions.

Drop by his post to hear and read about these powerful songs that comment, question, protest and generally turn rock music into a vehicle for mainstream Chinese voices.

(Pictured above is lead singer and guitarist from a modern Chinese band known as Omnipotent Youth)

The Story Behind The “Dry Bones” Song

delta r boysAlthough it’s often mistaken for a folksong, this popular spiritual that often pops up around Halloween was written by African-American author and composer, James Weldon Johnson.   The song has no exact date of composition, however, it was first recorded by the Famous Myers Jubilee Singers in 1928 and some versions of this song also give writing credit the author’s brother, J. Rosomond Johnson.  Since that time, it has been rerecorded and made popular by a wildly diverse group of musicians and performers including Rosemary Clooney, Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Mills Brothers, The Kingsmen and even Phish.

Although the song has spooky overtones, the lyrics are taken from the Biblical Book of Ezekial (Ezekial 37:1-14) where the Prophet Ezekial visits the Valley of Dry Bones and prophesies that the dead will one day rise again at the command of the Lord.  Although dry bones cd delta r boysthere are quite a few variations of the song, the format is pretty much the same.  The song starts with an introductory verse, tells the sequence of bones (from the toe upward) and almost always ends the command: “Now hear the word of the Lord.”

You can read one version of the lyrics and check a video of the Delta Rhythm Boys below.  The Delta Rhythm Boys were a very popular musical group that made this song well-known through their performances on radio, television and on Broadway.


•    Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
•    Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
•    Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
•    Now hear the word of the Lord.

•    Toe bone connected to the foot bone
•    Foot bone connected to the heel bone
•    Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
•    Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
•    Shin bone connected to the knee bone
•    Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
•    Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
•    Hip bone connected to the back bone
•    Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
•    Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
•    Neck bone connected to the head bone
•    Now hear the word of the Lord.

•    Chorus

•    Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
•    Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
•    Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
•    Now hear the word of the Lord.

Horagai – A Conch Shell Trumpet From Samurai Times

A while ago we did a post about conch shell trumpets that date back to ancient Aztec times.  While researching Asian-Pacific Instruments, we found similar shell trumpets in Tibet, Korea, the Pacific Islands and Japan.  Here’s more about the Japanese version of this unique instrument.

Although shell trumpets can be found in various locations around the world, the Japanese versions – Horagai (法螺貝) or jinkai (陣貝) are a bit unusual.  They consist, not only of the large conch shell but also of a wooden or bronze mouthpiece that allows the instrument to make a series of sounds, as opposed to only one loud blast or note.  Most closely connected with Buddhist monks such as the Yamabushi Warrior monks in Japan, each group or school would learn to play the instrument in different ways and to produce different melodies.

Historical records show that horagai was used in various Buddhist rituals that date back at least a thousand years or so.  These shell trumpets can also be seen in present day Japan in religious ceremonies such as the omizutori (water drawing), which is part of the of the Shuni-e rites at the Tōdai-ji in Nara.  When used by the Yamabushi (Ascetic warrior monks of the Shugendo sect) the instrument would both accompany the chanting of sutras or prayers as well as to signal their presence or movements throughout the mountain region where they lived.  Because the temperatures in these high mountains could easily drop below zero, it is said that the wooden or bronze mouthpiece was added so that the trumpeter’s lips would not freeze to the shell in the extreme cold.

When used in Samurai times, the jinkai, or “war shell”, would play different combinations of notes to signal troops to attack, withdraw or change battle plans.  It was sometimes used to confuse the enemy who might misread the number of troops attacking or what the various battle signals might be.  As you might guess, an experienced trumpeter; called a kai yaku (貝役), woudl have to be an adept musician and would be valued greatly by the Japanese fuedal lords or Samurai for their talents.

To learn more about different shell trumpet traditions or to hear a beginner horagai player learning the instrument, check out the links and resources below.

Links and Resources

Instruments From Ancient Mexico – The Conch Shell Trumpet

Wikipedia’s Horagai Page

Learning to play the Yamabushi Conch-Shell Trumpet (Horagai)

What’s the National Instrument of Bhutan? Find It Here!

ukulele color imageThe internet has some really handy compilation sites.  We’ve recently discovered a Wikipedia page that shares the national instruments from a variety of diverse countries of the world.

What’s a national instrument?  It can be an instrument discovered or played in a country, like the South African vuvuzela horn.  It can also be a musical instrument that holds cultural and symbolic importance for a state, a nation, culture or a particular race or ethnicity of people.  Included in this list are distinctive drums, percussion instruments, stringed instruments and more, each one representing the unique character of the country and culture it’s identified with.

Think of the balalaika of Russia  Or the ukulele of Hawaii.   And if you take a moment to check out this list, you’ll notice that each instrument has a clickable link to a more detailed page with additional description, pictures and musical information.  In short, this is an amazing place to begin any study or exploration of world music and world music instruments.

charango full color imageCan a country have more then one “national instrument”?  Yes, you’ll notice that several countries have multiple instruments listed as their national instruments.  For instance, Peru has both the Afro-Peruvian cajón (box drum) and the Andean charango, a stringed instrument made from the shell of an armadillo.

So what is the national instrument of Bhutan?  It’s a long-necked, seven-stringed lute called the drayen.  To find out more, you’ll just have to check out the link, here:

Links and Resources

Vuvuzela – South Africa
MYO Vuvuzela Stadium Horn

Balalaika-Ill-ColoredBalalaika – Russia
Balaika Poster and Coloring Page

Wooden Spoons – Russia

Cajón  – Peru
Hear, Color or Craft One At:

Ukulele – Hawaii
Poster and Coloring Page

Charango – Peru
Poster and Coloring Page

Sistrum posterSistrum – Egypt
Color or Craft One At:

Didgeridoo – Australia
Hear, Color or Craft One At: