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Traditional Gambian Music Guide

Musical Overview:
Kora The main ethnic groups are Mandinka, Fula, Wollof, Jola & Sarahule. Each of these groups has its own particular traditional music & dance forms associated to particular musical instruments. The Mandinka have the Jalis (oratorical folk storytellers) who use the Kora lute & sing.

Local musical instruments are made from local materials such as wood, hide, calabash gourds & horns.

The Djembe is a drum is common to all ethnic groups and are played at events marking rites of passage such as ceremonial weddings, naming ceremonies and social gatherings. The Boucarabou are played by the Jola which is comprised of several drums with different pitches which is played all at once by the same drummer. For bass beat musicians use the drums and for melody they use the Koras, Balafon, Xalams and Bolonbatas. The Jalis from the Wolof people developed a wide variety of instruments that have become staples of today's semi-traditional and popular music. In most areas, Wolof music was rhythmic rather than melodic. Jalis accompanied their highly energetic, predominantly monotone speech-song with the Sabarro (Djembe), the highest drum. They also used the Bellengo as their bass drum. The Jola and Manjagos use the Bombolo which is an idiophone created from a long without animal hide.

There is the calabash called the Sheikeire which is covered in sea shells or local beads and is shaken with the hands to create a rattling beat.

This is an earlier version of the kora used by the Diola, it resembles the shape of the kora but has a curved shaft and only 6 strings. It may date from the 13th century.

The Wolof (and some of the Serere) have three kinds of lute-like stringed instrument. Each type produces different sounds but they all have a long, wooden oval-shaped body covered with skin.

This is a one-string lute played with a horsehair bow originating with the Toucouleur, Mauritanians and the Soninke (Serahule).

A long hollow calabash which is played by old Wolof and Serere women by striking rhythmically with a piece of wood. One does not have to be a Griot to play this instrument.

A simple string attached to a stick, this instrument makes a whirring noise, which, when used during circumcision and death rites, protects the initiate and drives away the soul of the departed.

Other percussion are gourds covered with beads or shells, rattles, bells or whistles and, something which everyone can use, clapping hands.
Djembe Sabar
Balafon Tama
Boucarabou Xalam

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