Musical Instrument: Akonting

Have you ever marvelled at the uniqueness of the Banjo and Bass instruments? Unlike an acoustic or electric guitar, the Banjo only has three to five strings on average, it is compact and makes a truly unique sound that produces light, entertaining music. On the other end of the spectrum is the Bass guitar, It is large, has a deep sound, and usually forms part of the baseline in music making.

The Banjo and Bass instruments are great additions to musical history books. But Africa may have something even more special the Akonting, a unique instrument that combines the Banjo and Bass into one unique piece.

Let’s look at what makes the Akonting so unique, where it originates from, and what it is made of.

Musical Instrument Akonting image

Origins of the Akonting Instrument

The Jola people found across West Africa, predominantly in Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia are the originators of the Akonting.

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The Akonting looks similar to a Banjo, made from wood, leather, and string. It features a small round body covered in a leather skin guard, a long arm with strings running over it. Generally, the Akonting will have one shorter drone string and two longer melody strings.

Although the Akonting is normally made by carving wood into the desired shape, some have fashion Akontings out of sticks, bamboo, and even sugar cane. The covering of the body varies by region and group, with some even opting to leave it bare. The string is commonly made from fishing lines.

Making the Akonting is no easy feat, it requires patience, a steady hand and engineering brilliance. After fashioning the body from wood and attaching the arm to it, the string is then  attached using a slip knot and pulled over the arm and fastened over six times to the arm.

The Sounds of an Akonting

Much like a Bass guitar, the Akonting forms part of the rhythm of a song. By playing short notes one after the other, the Akonting acts like a beat maker. It supplies the rhythm to the background of a melody.

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Musicians generally play the Akonting at times of relaxation and celebration. Historically, workers needed time to relax during the day or wanted to switch off at night. They then played soothing music on the Akonting because it produces a sound people find easy to relax to.

Modern Uses and Value of the Akonting

Today, artists use the Akonting to showcase the Jola people’s musical history to the world. Many tribes and groups still use it. They pay tribute to their past by embracing it in their modern musical rituals. The Akonting can best be acknowledged for the enormous admiration it receives on the international stage.

Collectors across the world spend thousands on unique instruments. They view the Akonting as a masterful and beautiful piece of craftmanship. Many will gladly pay a fair sum to add it to their collection.