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
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.