Saturday, July 26, 2014

Musical Instruments in Niger


About six weeks ago John and I went to visit Niamey's music museum.  John has been there several times and has established a relationship with the center's director.  The day that John and I went, John asked if we could take pictures inside the museum without a flash.  Photography is forbidden, according to the sign at the door, but we saw people taking pictures with their phones and they were with a guide who could have said something.  Still, we felt better about specifically asking before taking pictures.  So, yes, I had permission to take these pictures.  :)



It's not a really fancy museum, and some parts of it were outdated.  For example, they had books about music that were really old and records and tapes to listen to.  It all should be digitized. It kind of looked like an idea for a place to do research on music, but the information they had in that room seemed mainly western.  But I liked the structure of the building and the way they put sand on the floors, just like there are in traditional houses.
  They also painted the walls with the designs found on traditional woven blankets as well as hanging some of the blankets themselves.  And I love that they have a mortal and pestle as an instrument.  Many of the women really get a rhythm going with their mortars and they pound with enough force that one can feel the vibration on the ground.


John is doing research on Songhai/Zarma music and its use in worship in churches, so most of the pictures we took are of Songhai/Zarma instruments.  The instruments are arranged by ethnic group.



The gumbe is made from barrels and, as far as I know, is only played at wedding dances, which, incidentally, the bride and groom don't attend.
An animal skin is stretched across the top and a section is cut from the side for greater resonance. 
Moolos....sort of like a three-string guitar, only they are plucked, not strummed.
These drums are called biiti, but I don't remember ever seeing one in Tera.  Maybe they are Zarma but not Songhai?

The dondon is used by the "town criers".  In Tera when we used to hear the beating of the dondon, we knew there was going to be an important announcement.  He would beat the drum, yell, "Everybody's listening, right?" and then proceed to give his announcement.
The gasu is a calabashed, shaped like a bowl.  A shallow hole is dug in the ground and the calabash is placed over it for greater resonance.  It can then be played one of two ways.  When played with rings on the hands it makes a sound like, well, like metal being tapped on wood, kind of like tapping your ring on the table.  But when it is hit with these sticks, it makes more of a clacking sound.  When hit with these sticks, it is always for the music that accompanies a demon possession dance.
The goje is always used in spirit possession ceremonies.  It is a one-stringed violin-sort of instrument and its distinctive sound is often described as a "wail."  Whenever we heard the goje and the gasu, we would know a demon possession ceremony was going on.  It's an eerie sound to me.

At one point I got bored waiting for John while he was talking to the museum guy so I played with my ring in the sand.  My camera is always good for passing the time when I'm bored.


We also discovered that they will make instruments for you (at a price, obviously), so John is thinking of having an instrument made.  There are also musicians there that you can take lessons from to learn to play a traditional instrument.  John wants to take some lessons, too, to learn a new instrument.  Whether or not he would do that at the center, I don't know. These are two of the musicians there who played for us.

They also have a small amphitheater.  If you bring a school or a class for a field trip and let them know ahead of time, they will make sure that there are musicians there to demonstrate various instruments to your group.  I think this would be a great place for a field trip for a music class, Nigerien history class, etc.  As I said, it's very simple and basic, but interesting never-the-less.  If you're interested, John can give you the name and phone number of the man in charge.

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