Celebrating musical diversity - Some of our favourite traditional instruments

Posted by Hilgard Meyer on

It has been said that “music is the universal language of mankind1. Music plays a large role in our lives, particularly as a form of cultural expression. Music is used as a means of communication and celebration and with this in mind, we have put together a list of (some) of our favourite Traditional Instruments from all over the world:
  1. Aboriginal Didgeridoo – a wind instrument originating from the indigenous people of Australia made from a hollowed tree trunk or branch, often painted with traditional patterns. Representing a connection to nature and the spiritual world, the sound reflects the sounds of wind, thunder, trees creaking, thumping of feet on the ground and water running; the didgeridoo is thought to be one of the oldest instruments in the world2.
  2. Marimba – Also known as an “African xylophone”, the exact origins of the marimba are unknown but history suggests they came from either Asia or Southern Africa and were globalized by slaves. It is a percussion instrument made from bars of wood with tuned resonators (originally calabashes were used) which are struck to create different sounds4. In addition to making music for dance and entertainment, the marimba is still used in rural villages as part of the culture and to learn it is to participate in life’s events3.
  3. Mayuri – possibly one of the most beautiful items on this list, the Mayuri is a peacock-shaped variation of the esraj, an Indian instrument similar to the sitar with a bowed, stringed neck. It is made with real peacock feathers and is associated the Hindu goddess of music5.didgeridoo, marimba, majuri
  4. Ojibwa Dance Drum - also spelled Ojibwe, the Ojibwa is a double-barrel drum made by a Native North American Indian tribe of the same name6. The drum is suspended while being played to allow it to resonate and is considered to be a symbol of Native identity and spirituality7.
  5. Hun – a Korean instrument similar to the ocarina. Looking almost like a round vase, the hun is a ceramic sphere played by blowing into the hole at the top to creating a low and dark sound8.
  6. Mbira – also known as a ‘thumb-piano’ is unique to the African continent. It consists of a series of tuned metal tongues attached at one end to a calabash that acts as a resonator9. There are reports of the African mbira from as early as 1586.
  7. Nyckelharpa – a quintessentially Swedish instrument played by spelmen, or fiddlers, who play a central role in the social life of traditional Swedish communities. The nyckelharpa has strings and a bow, like a violin but has keys for controlling the tone and pitch10.ojibwa, hun, mbira, nyckelharpa
  8. Kagura-suzu - the Kagura-suzu is a Japanese instrument traditionally rung by the miko, a shrine maiden, as she dances the Kagura-mai during Shinto rituals. Bells have a long history as an item which calls to the kami (gods) in Japan. The Kagura-Suzu always has 15 bells and is symbolic of a branch of a sakaki tree11.
  9. Maracas –the maraca comes from indigenous tribes in Latin America, originally used in religious chants and ceremonies and later folk-songs. Traditionally made from dried gourds filled with seeds or small stones and usually played in pairs12. Maracas have a bright, vibrant sound that is characteristic of the rhythms in Latin-American music.
  10. The Vuvuzela – A truly South African instrument; bold, unapologetic and loud! Said to be a modern version of the kudu horns used by villagers in rural areas to communicate. A brightly coloured plastic horn that caused an international controversy during the 2010 Soccer World Cup13, the vuvuzela is an essential part of South Africa’s soccer culture.kagura-suzu, maracas, vuvuzela

    1 - (quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)   https://www.dailyrecordnews.com/religion/music-universal-language-of-mankind/article_ef95074a-1475-11e4-85a9-0019bb2963f4.html#:~:text=The%20quote%2C%20%E2%80%9Cmusic%20is%20the,thinking%20or%20expressing%20this%20opinion.

    2 - https://www.aboriginalart.com.au/didgeridoo/what_is.html

    3 - https://engagedscholarship.csuohio.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=clmusic_facpub#:~:text=The%20origin%20of%20the%20marimba,by%20pre%2DColumbian%20African%20contact

    4 - https://www.britannica.com/art/marimba

    5 - https://artsandculture.google.com/theme/10-unusual-musical-instruments-from-around-the-world/-gJiyqdl_D_BIQ?hl=en

    6 - https://www.britannica.com/art/Native-American-music/Music-history-of-the-Native-Americans

    7 - https://pluralism.org/the-drum

    8 - https://www.angelfire.com/alt/koreanmusic/instruments.html

    9 - https://www.britannica.com/art/mbira

    10 - https://folkways.si.edu/strings-north-national-instruments-sweden-norway-finland/world-sounds/music/article/smithsonian

    11 - https://medium.com/@livingwithkami/sacred-items-series-kagura-suzu-4acfe2a8cc47

    12 - http://www.latinomusiccafe.com/2014/12/04/latin-music-history-the-maracas-indigenous-origins/

    13 - https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2010/jun/05/2010-world-cup-vuvuzela-history