Feliz Navidad… and a Merry Christmas, Puerto Rican Style!

Puerto rico bongosGenerations of music fans have learned to say Merry Christmas in Spanish from this popular holiday song.  Written by Jose Feliciano, a singer, songwriter and virtuoso guitarist from Puerto Rico, this happy little song is perfect for teaching easy phrases in Spanish or for just adding to your family’s soundtrack of Christmas fun.

The lyrics are simple.  The first verse is in Spanish:

Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad,
Feliz Navidad, Prospero año y felicidad . . .
Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad,
Feliz Navidad, Prospero año y felicidad . . .

And the second verse is in English:

I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
From the bottom of my heart

And, although “Feliz Navidad” is loved all around the world, you can use the song to learn more about music and holiday traditions from other lands, such as Puerto Rico.

guiro iconDid you know that there are musical groups that go door to door serenading during six weeks of Christmas festivities in Puerto Rico?  Called “parrandas”, “asaltos” or “trullas”, these music groups go from home to home and play bright, upbeat songs, with the same instruments you hear in the version of Feliz Navidad below – guitars, bongo drums and a percussion instrument called a guiro.

Music is important all aspects of the extended holiday celebration in Puerto Rico and the Christmas tree is decorated to symbolize the musical groups as well as the Magi or Three Kings.  For many, the Christmas season begins after Thanksgiving and ends in early January.  During that time you may often get a visit from a band of musicians who will celebrate the season with you and stop to eat and drink at your house as they travel on their way.

Want to learn more about Christmas in Puerto Rico?  Check out the great links below.  Or have fun with your own version of the holiday, wherever you are.  Color a festive guitar.  Make your own guiro!

Or wish someone you love a “Feliz Navidad!”

Links And Activities

Puerto Rican Christmas Traditions from El Boricua

http://www.elboricua.com/traditions.html

Folklore and Christmas Traditions From “Welcome To Puerto Rico”

http://www.topuertorico.org/culture/folklore.shtml

guitar coloring pageGuitar Coloring Page

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

Hear a Guiro

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

Color A Guiro Online

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

Make Your Own Guiro from Recycled Materials

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

Feliz Navidad Lyric Sheet Print Out

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

DARIA’s Feliz Navidad on I tunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/celebrate-season-multicultural/id344193347

DARIA’s Feliz Navidad Amazon mp3

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00302IO26/ref=dm_dp_trk2

Bead Your Own African Shekere

traditional-shekeres-from-around-the-world- A shekere (or sekere) is a beautiful and unique instrument originating in West Africa that appears in various shapes, sizes and forms throughout the continent of Africa.  Made from a simple dried gourd with a beaded “skirt”, shekeres are a great addition to any environment where children are learning about music or world cultures.

mini shekere for storeIf you’re finding it hard to locate or purchase a shekere for your classroom, home or homeschool, you might consider making your own.  Other then the dried gourd, the additional materials are easy to find and the beading process is “easy to moderate” for beginning crafters.  In fact, since the stringing and beading is the part of the process that generates the most questions and confusion, we’ve partnered with Carrie P. from a wonderful blog called Crafty Moms Share to develop a step-by-step tutorial for making your own dried gourd shekere.  (Complete gourd tutorial and other related shekere posts can be found at the links below).

beads for shekere kitsBeads, Seeds, Nuts or Seashells

Along with beads, almost any small, roundish, rattling object can be used as the noise-makers on a shekere.  If you take a close look at the shekeres pictured above, you’ll notice beads as well as seeds woven into the netting.  In Africa, some shekeres also use seashells or hard seeds or nuts with holes drilled though them as part of their unique design.

Add Some String

The skirt of a shekere is created from a type of string or twine that is durable and will not break or stretch.  Since cotton twine will stretch, nylon or hemp is a better choice for creating a working shekere.  Because the top circle or collar of the netting holds all the other strings in place, some craftspeople pick a thicker string for this or braid the twine for a more durable start to the project.

shekere skirt no beadsAnd Some Knots!

With your collar in place around the gourds neck, you are ready to add the strings.

Cut a number of strings (enough to fit around the gourd) approximately 30 inches long.  Fold each string in half and make a slip knot with it around the collar.  To make a slip knot, put the folded string under the collar with the fold on top and then bring the ends through the loop of the fold and collar and tighten.

Once you have all the strings you desire in place you will tie a loop knot to secure each location. A loop knot is where you make a “6” with your strings and bring the end through the loop of it. This is the type of knot we will be using for the rest of the project.

starting to beadAdd The Beads

Here are Carrie’s great suggestions for getting the hang of adding beads to the skirt:

Adding the beads is where you creativity really comes into play.

You can do many different things with the beads. Some put a bead on each string, others put two strings through a bead. Some put a single bead between knots and others go up to three beads before knotting. The important thing is to work with a string from two different knots.

Once you have your bead(s) in place, tie a loose loop knot. I re-started many of mine because I did not like how the first round looked and found they lay better with looser knots.  Do an entire round before starting the next.

Once you have one round complete, start the next.  Stay consistent with however you’ve started with beads and knots, but again you want to use strings from different knots. This will bring the beads in the first round closer together. Continue doing a round at a time until you have the skirt you want.

finishing the bottomFinish The Instrument!

Here are Carrie’s two descriptions for two methods of finishing the skirt and completing the shekere:

Method 1: The first is to have another loop similar to the collar (braided if you used braided) and the same size. Then you tie your ends to the loop so it hangs loosely below the gourd.

Method 2: If your gourd is small you can take an 8-inch string and tie the ends together. This is easier to do with another person holding your shekere for you to tie them together.

colorful kids shekere beadedMaking Music!

If you take a look at the resources below you’ll find many wonderful ways to check out the sound of traditional shekeres or explore music with the ones you’ve created.

Enjoy!

Complete Tutorials

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Make-Your-Own-Shekere-African-Percussion-Instrument-Tutorial-992550

http://dariasvillagestore.storenvy.com/collections/34585-all-products/products/4084121-make-your-own-shekere-african-instrument-tutorial

tall-and-thin-sekere--PMLinks and Resources

Hear A Shekere
http://www.dariamusic.com/shekere.php

Color a Shekere Online
http://www.dariamusic.com/color_Shekere.php

Carries Crafty Moms Share Blog
craftymomsshare.blogspot.com/‎

Sekere.com – Beaded Sekeres from Master Craftswoman, Sara Fabunmi
http://www.sekere.com

Cultural Value of the Shekere, Article By Sara Fabunmi
https://makingmulticulturalmusic.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/the-cultural-value-of-the-sekere/

Make a Classroom Shekere (From A Gourd)
http://tinytappingtoes.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/easy-gourd-shekere-for-a-child-or-a-classroom/

Make a Recycled Shekere (From A Milk Jug)
http://www.dariamusic.com/make_Shekere.php

An Alphabet Shekere Game
http://www.trueaimeducation.com/2012/10/guest-post-learning-letters-with-an-alphabet-shekere.html

The Pacay Shaker – A Rattle That Grows On A Tree

pacay shaker on redMany musical instruments are made from natural materials.

A few actually are the raw materials and can be played as instruments in their natural form.  For instance, the pacay shaker is the seed pod of a large, beautiful tree that also creates the pacay fruit and bean – both foods used by Central and South American people dating back to Incan times!

So, what is a pacay tree?  When fully grown, it can tower up to 60 feet and produces long seed pods – some over a foot in length.  The ripe, bright green fruit are picked and eaten in two ways.  The white fiber between the seeds is eaten as the fruit and the seeds are used in much the same way as any bean.  A website called Phoenix Tropicals has lots of great growing tips about this warm climate tree for anyone interested in growing it outside of it’s native Central or South America.

pacay fruit - ripeWhat does the fruit of the pacay taste like?  It’s sometimes called the ”ice cream bean” and people describe the fiber as “sweet” and “refreshing”. The seeds are also eaten. In Central America, the seeds are cooked and served like a bean or other vegetable.  In Mexico, the seeds are roasted and sold as snacks or treats.  And – obviously – if the seed pods are left to dry, the beans dry inside the pod and create the shaking and rattling sound that turns this from a food into a musical instrument.

Pacay Shaker in Josef's HandHow do you play a pacay shaker?  Rattle it back and forth up and down, start slowly and build a crescendo.  Hold it in one hand and tap it against the other.  Or just sit back and admire it as a work of art of nature – one more of it’s beautiful and useful creations.

Links

Wkipedia Page Containing Historic Information on the Pacay Tree

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inga_feuilleei

Phoenix Tropicals – Growing Tips and Good General Information on Pacay Trees

http://www.phoenixtropicals.com/pacay.html

Green Pacay Fruit Picture (above) used by permission from Phoenix Tropical

 

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