African Instruments

African Instruments

African instruments and culture have had a great impact on making Mississippi the birthplace of America’s music! Instruments like the akonting, djembe, and balafon, along with African rhythms have made Mississippi the musical state we are today!

Akonting

The akonting is the African predecessor to the banjo. It has been historically played by indigenous Jola people in West Africa, and oral tradition dates the instrument back several generations. Both akontings and early banjos used gourds for the body of the instrument, and both are played with similar style and sound. The akonting is still played by the Jola people today and is becoming more popular within the United States as well.

Discussion

K-3rd Grade

  1. Have you ever played an instrument?

4th-6th Grade

  1. How are instruments important in your life?

Vocabulary

K-3rd Grade

  • Oral (adjective): things which are spoken 
  • Gourd (noun): fruit from a vine with a thick outside and many seeds inside

4th-6th Grade

  • Predecessor (noun): one who comes before 
  • Indigenous (adjective): originating from a particular place

Djembe

The djembe originated in Western Africa and the people who played it were known as djembefola. In Africa, respected men called griots would pass down stories, history, music, and culture while playing the djembe. Today, the djembe drum is used around the world and the United States, often in acoustic settings.

Discussion

K-3rd Grade

  1. Who do you learn from? 
  2. Where do you hear drums played?

4th-6th Grade

  1. How do we learn about stories, music, and culture? 
  2. Who are people your family respects?

Vocabulary

K-3rd Grade

  • Story (noun): a telling about what happened in a real or imaginary world

4th-6th Grade

  • Acoustic (adjective): describing music that is not amplified electronically 
  • Setting (noun): the place and conditions in which something exists

Balafon

The balafon is an African idiophone (known in the West as a xylophone) built with wood, chord, and gourds. The construction of a balafon involves heating wood to a precise temperature, tuning gourds to specific notes, and tying the instrument together with a single chord. Traditionally, balafons were made using spider webs and sticky rice water as covers and glue. Today, other materials like plastic bags and glue can be used instead.

Discussion

K-3rd Grade

  1. How would you build an instrument? 
  2. What can you make from your environment?

4th-6th Grade

  1. The Jola people have been known to reuse plastic bags when making balafons. What are some ways we can reuse materials to reduce waste?

Vocabulary

K-3rd Grade

  • Precise (adjective): to be certain, exact 
  • Note (noun): a special, named, sound in music

4th-6th Grade

  • Idiophone (noun): instruments designed to vibrate a certain way when struck 
  • Tune (verb): to adjust the sound of an instrument

Discussion

K-3rd Grade

  1. Do you know any old songs? 
  2. What helps you when you are sad?

4th-6th Grade

  1. What helps you endure difficult moments? 
  2. What can we learn from our history of slavery?

Vocabulary

K-3rd Grade

  • Slave (noun): a person who is treated as the property of another person 
  • Rhythm (noun): patterns of sound

4th-6th Grade

  • Ancestor (noun): someone from whom people in a family descend 
  • Endure (verb): to suffer through something patiently