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Musical Instrument: Ekwe

Musical Instrument: Ekwe

Different forms of music in African countries help tell stories of culture and history. At the heart of all music in Africa, is the basic instrument used to create a rhythm. A beat that moves everyone, a sound so familiar, but so unique in each region. This instrument is the African drum.

Big or small, simple or complex, wood or leather, most cultures across the African continent have a drum to carry the rhythm of their music and communication. One of the most unique drum instruments found on the African continent is the Ekwe. It is a true masterpiece of design simplicity and minimalism.

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The Ekwe instrument is of the Igbo people, who are based in their homeland of Nigeria. Let us look at how the Ekwe is made, what it is created from, and what the purpose of the instrument is.

Ekwe instrument image
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What the Ekwe is made from

Constructed using a hollowed-out tree log or any large piece of wood, the Ekwe is a drum with rectangular cavity slits. Some have a leather strap fastened end-to-end to make carrying it easier. Others have handles fitted to them using wood or rope.

The true design ingenuity appears in how the Ekwe is constructed. To think of the time and patience required to hollow out, smooth, and measure rectangles from a log is astonishing.

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To play the Ekwe, the artist will need to use sticks. These were traditionally created using wood. It can also be played by hand but would require endurance and a high pain threshold to beat a wooden drum hard enough to echo sound.

History of the Ekwe instrument

Very little is known about the origins of the Ekwe, but we can determine a few things about its history based on its construct. Being a percussion instrument, it was most likely used to communicate during hunts, battles, or simply to tell stories during celebrations.

The exact date of origin is unknown, but it possibly dates to 2500 BC with the Igbo people. Their rich history is well documented with pottery and carvings discovered and dated to that period.

Today, artists still use the Ekwe to make beautiful music and to celebrate the history of the Igbo people. Many musicians who play the Ekwe instrument would customise their instrument in a unique  colourful decorative manner in true Africa style.

While newly fashioned ones might not be worth thousands of Rands, collectors will surely line up to get their hands on Ekwe instruments dating back a few hundred or thousand years.