Have you ever seen a shekere from Africa? It is a beautiful musical instrument made from a dried gourd that is shaken, tossed or moved from hand to hand creating wonderful rhythms and songs.
Here’s a picture of several traditional shekeres from a variety of countries:
Traditional shekeres (or sekeres) are most often made from a type of squash called a birdhouse gourd that grows in many locations around the world. It is grown, dried and about a year later, ready to be turned into an instrument. When the outside of the gourd hardens into a thick shell, it is strung with a netting that fits loosely around the rounded part of the gourd. Beads, seeds, shells or other rattling objects are attached to the netting to create the percussive sound of the shekere.
Since gourds may be hard to find and take some time to dry, here is a simplified version of this musical craft that uses stickers and recycled milk jugs. Also, working with netting and beads can be difficult for tiny hands, so this craft allows young children to create beautiful patterns that are unique and still have an instrument that is fun to play along with African songs or any uptempo music. A complete supply list for this project is below.
MAKE YOUR OWN SHEKERE
First, wash and clean your milk jug and keep the lid or cap. If you are working with many children, you may wish to put each child’s name on their milk jug for identification, should some of the shekeres look similar. Next, allow your students to do their beading, either free form by applying stickers anywhere on the milk jug or you can draw string patterns for them to show where a bead or sticker would go. If you like, you can talk about patterns of colors and different ways that patterns can be created.
Once your shekere is “beaded”, then add the filling. Fillings that create quieter shekeres are sand, salt, sugar, Q-tips, seed beads or tiny pasta such as pastina. Slightly louder shekeres can be made with fillings like paper clips, bird seed, rice, pony beads, or smaller beans such as lentils. Louder shekeres can be created by adding large dried macaroni, or beans, pebbles, larger beads or even jingle bells.
After filling your shekeres, seal the instrument with sturdy electrical tape by wrapping it around the lid and the top section of the plastic jug. This way the contents are secure inside, especially if working with younger children. If you can find colorful electrical tape, it adds a nice design element.
A HANDLE FOR YOUR SHEKERE
If you like, add colorful yarn or pipecleaners to create a handle for your milk jug shekere.
The shekere can be played like a rattle, simply shaking it around. It can also be held in one hand and then tapped on the other hand, like you might play a tambourine.
It can be tossed gently from one hand to the other. It can be played by tossing gently from one person to another and works well in a circle.
Some players “burp” their shekere. They hold it in one hand and tap the bottom with the other hand. On gourds, this creates not only a rattling but an “ah” sound. If you try this with your milk jug shekere, you’ll get a rattle and a tap, a nice percussive effect.
What other sounds can your sticker shekere make? Explore it and find out.
Hear a shekere here:
Check out this great traditional song from South Africa:
SUPPLIES FOR THIS PROJECT
Plastic milk jug, (rinsed out, with lid)
Stickers (such as paper reinforcements or the little round stickers used to price items at garage sales).
Permanent Marker, if you wish to draw string patterns on the plastic jugs
Colorful yarn or string for handle
Filling for the shekere – such as bird seed, dried macaroni, beans, beads, rice, sugar, salt, paper clips or small pebbles.
Electrical tape – for sealing the instrument and keeping the content inside