Lesiba

Name: Lesiba.
Type: Chordophones > Bows > Idiochords > Mouth.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 311.121.222
Country: South Africa.
Region: Africa.

Description: The lesiba is the national instrument of the Basotho, a southern African people, now located primarily in South Africa and Lesotho and the Khoikhoi people of South Africa. The lesiba is played mostly by herdsmen and herdboys to give signals and instructions to their cattle and almost as much, for their own entertainment.

Though a very few people alive today play this instrument. The harsh birdlike sounds of the instrument are so well recognized among the Sotho that it is used on Lesotho Radio to signal the start of the news broadcast.

Etymology: The word lesiba is Tswana for feather, the term is adopted in Sotho. It is also called gora or goura [in Khoisan, for a type of bird. This term has also been adapted by the Xhosa and Zulu] are members of a class of “unbraced mouth-resonated bow’s”.

Playing Techniques: Holding both hands around the quill, positioned without touching just inside the lips, the player sharply inhales or exhales against it, creating vibration in the string. This “produces a powerful buzzing sound,” usually in short notes on a small, limited scale.

Inhalation excites the harmonics of the string, while exhalation is most often accompanied by a throaty grunt. Except in players with strong breath, and may be accompanied by humming. Vocalizations create, from a single player, the effect of more than one part. The harmonics used are primarily the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth and twelfth.

Acoustics: According to Borrow in 1806, the instrument sounds “like the faint murmurs of distance music that comes over the ear. Without any distinction of notes. Barnard in 1910 noted the loudness of the instrument, while Alberti in 1810 compared the sounds to the “tones of the so-called Hunting-horn,” presumably a reference to the shared use of the harmonic series.

According to Kirby in 1934, “the tone is, very pleasant when well produced, partaking of the qualities of both string and wind, reminding one of the Aeolian harp; and it can be varied in power from a faint whisper to a strong, vibrant sound, the air column of the mouth and throat acting as a resonator”.

Construction: Having a flattened quill attached to a long string, the string is stretched over a hard stick. Acting as the main source of Vibration. At the other end, in some areas, is a coconut shell resonator, with a tension noose wrapped around the string to adjust the pitch. The lesibas construction is unique: “no other class of stringed-wind instrument has been found anywhere else in the world.

Citations: Bibliography: Percival Kirby 2009 – “The Gora, a Stringed-wind Instrument” The World of South African Music: A Reader, p.36.  Lucia, Christine; ed. Cambridge. ISBN 1904303366 ; Coplan, David B. 1994 – In the Time of Cannibals: The Word Music of South Africa’s Basotho Migrants, p. 203. University of Chicago ISBN 9780226115740 ;

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