Most of you may know I’m fond of creating guitar-like musical instruments out of cigar boxes and found-object stuff, whatever I find laying around or in a clean spot via dumpsters or el-cheapo yard sales and the like.
The imagination and creativity as well as challenge to me as a musician is what draws me. Sharing all this with others is a way of bridge-building, teaching, even sharing the Good News of Jesus as I am a pastor and chaplain as well as recording blues musician who’s been doing all this for many years.
So in the past several days I did a deep dive (again… have done this many times for decades) into guitar and guitar-like objects found in Africa. It’s of course a very large continent with a super wide range of cultures, subcultures, tribal and religious histories that offers so much with regard to origins of the guitar, indeed blues music!
The sick, horrid and damnable slave trade brought people with knowledge and skills to build primitive stringed instruments made from the most basic of materials to the U.S., Caribbean and South America among other places.
I spent recent days digging into Northern Ghana, FraFra people, their Kologo music and the kologo which is a 2 stringed instrument played with (usually) a diy plastic pic made from discarded soda bottle, strings of monofiliment fishing line and in Africa, animal skin or cowhide stretched and tacked over a gourd -or- wooden bowl-shaped body. The “tuners” are simply rawhide whetted with saliva and each string wrapped within it, the leather tightly tied. When dry, one may be amazed at how well after the strings are stretched, such can hold pitch! To tune one moves the rawhide up or down, sometimes using (in my case) a flat-headed pliers as well as fingers for pressure. After doing one string, the second is secured in the same way.
Some sort of bridge (piece of wood normally) is used. No slide is used, one fingers the strings and typically the higher-tuned one is played as the melody string, the lower one as a drone. Players tune them all sorts of ways but often the second string is tuned a 4th above the drone string.
Very simple, very effective and for me, really fun to learn and find a deeper blues source as you can find quite a few ethnomusicologists and other scholarship pointing to these gits as foundational to American blues via the Black folks of the South.
If you’re interested, here’s the 3rd quite westernized version I recently completed.
As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn