The banjo's great great grandaddy.
March 9, 2008 7:01 AM   Subscribe

So, you hollow out piece of wood into an oblong bowl shape, and you attach a dowel to it. Stretch a dried animal skin over that, and put some strings on it. Instruments of this general construction and in a range of sizes can be found from Morrocco to Nigeria and everywhere in between. It goes by any number of local names: Malian masters like Bassekou Kouyaté and Cheick Hamala Diabaté call it ngoni. Senegalese Wolof griots like Samba Aliou Guissé call it xalam. And Morroccan gnawa musicians like Hassan Hakmoun and Hamid El Kasri get way funky on the larger version that they call the gimbri or sentir. [not: see hoverovers for link descriptions]

Bonus tracks:

Cheick Hamala Diabate again, but not on ngoni: this time he joins antique banjo enthusiast Bob Carlin for a duet on... antique banjos.

Here's another Hassan Hakmoun clip. Audio and video are out of sync, but by exactly one beat, so it's not actually too terrible to watch!

This clip features a nice groove from the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

This clip is an odd mishmash of images, a combination of travel snapshots but with photos of gimbri players interspersed, but audio is a really nice Gnawa groove.

And this little high-speed montage clip (it's only just over a minute long), well, you may find either kinda cool or kinda annoying: AfroBeat Banjo.

There are, of course, many related instruments across West Africa: oamong them, the larger donso ngoni and the akonting. See also: MySpace Music akonting page.

There's also the kora, of course, but that's a whole 'nother FPP.

And finally, this incredibly exhaustive MySpace Music page, Banjo Roots packs more info, images and links onto a single page than many websites do in 20 or more. A real labor of love!
posted by flapjax at midnite (13 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
This post is also clearly a labor of love. As usual, your musicological research is guaranteed to keep me up past me bedtime.

I'll be passing along the linkage, as well..the next time my brother drags his djembe, flutes, and mbiras from S.F. for a visit, I may have to send him to Tokyo in search of like-minded individuals....
posted by squasha at 7:25 AM on March 9, 2008

Very cool, flapjax at midnite! Ditto squasha's comments. I was in Western Sahara at the end of the 80s, and hanging out at a tea shop one evening, I saw a guy improvise one of these using a large cooking oil can as the body, a random piece of wood for the neck, and unraveled bicycle brake cables for the strings. It sounded pretty good! This brought back a lot of forgotten memories; and now I know what these things are called! Many thanks.
posted by carter at 7:43 AM on March 9, 2008

Dude, that's some great post, as a Moroccan I was raised with this music in the ear and it's always a joy to hear it again and again.
posted by zouhair at 9:07 AM on March 9, 2008

Great post! Thanks, flapjax!
posted by interrobang at 11:07 AM on March 9, 2008

Damn, Flapjax, you're like the Isaac Asmiov of music FPP's! (Though I don't know how Asimov's quality fared across the Dewey decimal system; you're batting near 1.000.)

/end mixed metaphor
posted by not_on_display at 11:32 AM on March 9, 2008

The Bob Carlin link was an eye-opener. I often argue that a lot of the "archaic" A-Minor appalachian fiddle and banjo tunes are African and not Celtic in origin. Damn. Now I gotta rethink everything I know... Been into gourd banjos for a long time... time to graduate from my coffe can banjo and get back to basics...
posted by zaelic at 3:56 PM on March 9, 2008

Ah, what a beautiful post, man. This will definitely take a couple of days to fully digest. Thanx flapjax!

zaelic, I've given a lot of thought to that too and so far it looks like their may be a connection that happened in Scotland with the Moors in the Middle Ages. Just a thought.
posted by snsranch at 5:01 PM on March 9, 2008

Totally awesome post. I thank you.
posted by Wolof at 6:26 PM on March 9, 2008

Somes more MySpace Music pages, full of good music:

Two fine akonting players from Africa, Daniel Jatta and Sana Ndiaye.

And great stuff from Morroccan gimbri player Nouba.

More gimbri from Algiers-based Ali El Gnawi.

The fantastic gimbri player and singer Hassan Boussou. Boussou is also the frontman for Afropop band Sewarye.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:25 PM on March 9, 2008

Plus more Morroccan funkiness from Ouled Gnawa.

Also recommended: Nuru Kane and Andra Kouyate.

French musicians who've taken up the gimbri: Antoine Laloux and Loy Ehrlich.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:41 PM on March 9, 2008

Here's a motherlode of akonting videos, all shot recently in the Gambia by banjo player player extraordinaire (and akonting student/enthusiast) Chuck Levy, who is helping to present the African Roots of the Banjo symposium coming up in less than 2 weeks in Gainesville, Florida. And at that symposium, among other banjo/akonting luminaries will be Bob Carlin, (seen in duet with Cheick Hamala Diabate in one of the linked videos from this FPP), Shlomo Pestcoe and akonting player Sana Ndiaye, whose MySpace page I linked in a comment just above.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:15 PM on March 9, 2008

Awesome music. Thanks for the post!
posted by darkstar at 9:25 PM on March 9, 2008

By the way, this reminds me of some outstanding Oud music by Professor Alla. Different instrument, but his Bechar vibe is very shmoove, too.
posted by darkstar at 9:27 PM on March 9, 2008

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