5 Musical Instruments In Africa

Posted by Naami Tettey on


 African music has undergone frequent and decisive changes throughout the centuries. Traditional music in most of the continent is passed down orally. Major and minor migrations of African people brought musical styles and instruments to new areas. Music is an integral part of the African culture, with various ceremonies being preceded by some sort of music. Music is used to communicate, pass literature, welcoming heroes among other ritual functions. There are diverse genres of music in Africa like hymns, dirge, that create mood and feel for the occasion. African music is not rigidly linked to specific ethnic groups as the individual musician, his style and creativity, have always played an important role.

There are many ethnic communities in Africa with each having its own unique  musical instruments. Below is a list of 6 African musical instruments.

1) Kora

The design of this instrument is almost similar to that of a guitar. It is a  harp built from a large calabash cut in half, with 21 strings and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck. The skin is supported by two handles that run under it. Its origins are obscure, but it is traditionally associated with royalty, the ruling classes, or religious practices. The kora is used by male musicians mainly to accompany narrations, recitations, and songs in honour of a patron.  The construction of the instrument as well as the music are unique in the world. The Kora is found in all Mande cultures. It is played by the Mandinka in Gambia,Senegal and Guinea Bissau, the Malinke or Maninka in Guinée, the Bambara or Bamana in Mali and the Dioula in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast).


2) The Talking Drum

This is one of the oldest yet popular drum from the African continent. A talking drum is an African instrument known for its hourglass shape. It has two drum heads connected by leather tension cords, which allow the player to modulate the pitch of the drum by squeezing the cords between their arm and body.  Originating from West Africa, the talking drum is an instrument that can mimic the tone, rhythm, intonation, and stress of human speech. It is called different names in different languages, including Dondo, Tamanin, Lunna, and Dundun, among others. It is mostly found in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Togo and Benin. It was mostly known for making announcements in some African communities.


3) Kalimba

Also referred to as the thumb piano although it is played with more fingers than just the thumbs, the kalimba consists of strips placed on a resonator which is made from wood. A sound is produced by plucking the ends of the flexible strips.


The kalimba looks pretty similar to an mbira, and both instruments consist of a wooden soundboard with steel keys that players depress and release with their fingers to create a tranquil, bell-like sound. Despite these similarities, the kalimba and the mbira are not the same instrument. The original kalimba was made from bamboo strips, however modern instruments come with metal instruments.

 Many tribes, all across the continent, have developed their own unique thumb pianos over the centuries. Because the languages and cultures of these tribes vary so much, so do the names and traditions of their instruments.

Some examples of names are:

  • the mbira of the Shona people in Zimbabwe
  • the likembe and sanza in Congo
  • the ikembe in Rwanda and Burundi
  • the prempremsuah and gyilgo in Ghana
  • the ilimba and chirimba in Tanzania
  • the kadongo and akogo in Uganda
  • the kalimba in Kenya
  • and many more


4) The Balafon

The balafon resembles the xylophone or African Marimba and usually has between 16 and 27 keys. It has been played in Africa since the 12th century.The African balafon is the traditional xylophone of the Mande people in West Africa. The original name of the percussion instrument is bala, while the term "balafon" actually means "playing the bala instrument". The balafon is one of the oldest instruments in the world. Anybody can play a note on the balafon, just strike the note and listen to your beautiful sound.

The balafon is amplified by small gourds underneath the keys, with small layers of film covering holes to create a unique buzzing sound. Some people say it sounds like an electric keyboard! One hand typically plays the lower half, and the other hand plays the upper half. With this bass line/melody effect, the sound is rich and full that the balafon is really a one-man-band.


5) The Shekere

The shekere, a West African percussion instrument is a handmade rattle. It consists of a hollow dried gourd or calabash, covered on the outside with a net of seeds, beads, shells, or any available material. Popular in Senegal, Nigeria, Liberia, they are also a central feature of traditional Ewe music in Ghana.

It is very easy to play with no technical skills required. All you have to do is to hold the two extreme ends or the sides with both hands and shake in the pattern of the rhythm you prefer.

Sources: wikipedia, pinterest, answersafrica.com, africantreasures.com, theculturetrip.com


Which one of the instruments was the favorite? Commment below.

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