Name: Akonting.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
Region: West Africa.

Description: The akonting [or ekonting in French transliteration] is the folk lute of the Jola people, found in Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. It is a banjo-like instrument with a skin-headed gourd body, two long melody strings, and one short drone string, akin to the short fifth “thumb string” on the five-string banjo.

Origin: Jola oral tradition places the birthplace of the akonting in the village of Kanjanka in Lower Casamance [Senegal], near the banks of the Casamance River. The name of the instrument’s home village is recalled in the most common tuning pattern for the akonting’s three open strings [from the 3rd short “thumb” string to the 1st long melody string]: kan [the 5th note of the scale, tuned an octave higher], jan [root note], ka [flatted 7th note].

Tunings: Analogous to the traditional old-time / folk styles of playing the 5-string banjo, the akonting is tuned in different tunings. Using the kanjanka tuning pattern of 5 / 1 / -7, a common tuning in Casamance is d / G / F. In Gambia, for another variant the 1st long melody is raised a semitone [half-step] higher to make a natural 7th note, as in c / F / E.

Akonting Tunings
Region Tunings
Casamance d / G / F
Gambia c / F / E

Gambian Jola scholar/musician Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta, who pioneered the research and documentation of the akonting in the mid-1980s, describes the music of his people’s folk lute as follows:

The music of the akonting is short sustained notes that are played over and over again. Usually they are between two to three notes. The mechanics involved in playing the akonting is the regular sounding of the short string [drone string] when playing any melody. It acts as a drum to add beauty to the melody. The middle string is also sometimes used as drone string. 

The music of the akonting has been and still is folk music. Akonting players do not play music to confer status to their patrons. They play their music, usually in the evenings after work to relax and have a nice time before going to bed. Also when in their rice field bars [Hu Waa in Jola] they play the Akonting in the evening after working in their rice fields and drink their palm wine that they are expert in tapping from the palm tree. The music of the Akonting deals with all matters of life and does not need to be augmented by any other instrument to be danceable. It is rhythmic enough to enable one to dance.

Citations: Bibliography:


Name: Xalam.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.5
Tunings: C / A / E
Country: Many, Gambia, Senegal.
Region: West Africa.

Description: The xalam is a two stringed fretless lute that is a very close analogue of the Malian N’goni in its construction. Thus, suggesting a likely relationship between the two. The xalam is commonly played in Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Niger, Northern Nigeria, Northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Western Sahara.

The xalam also bears a similarity to the akonting. Someone who plays the xalam is called a xalamkat a word composed of the verbal form of xalam, meaning “to play the xalam” and the agentive suffix -kat, thus meaning “one who xalams”.

Etymology: it is also known in other languages as bappe, diassare, hoddu [Pulaar / Fulani], koliko [Gurunsi], kologo [Frafra], komsa, kontigi [Hausa], koni, konting [Mandinka], molo [Songhay / Zarma], ndere, ngoni [Bambara] and tidinit [Hassaniyya and Berber].

Tuning: The second tuning [ci kow or high] uses the same string intervals but the fundamental is placed a minor second above the higher melody string. Meaning that the open main strings now play the role of 3 and 6, with the supplementary strings acting as 3´ and 4#. The highest supplementary string usually being ignored.

Xalam Tunings
Names Tunings

In the third tuning [ardin] the fundamental is a minor third above; the lowest main string and the main strings are tuned to the intervals of 6 and 2. With supplementary strings tuned to the intervals 5 and 1´. The third supplementary string is either ignored or is tuned to intervals of 6 or 2´.

When playing in an ensemble, the ardin xalam main strings are tuned to a minor third below the cu suuf xalam and the ci kow xalam is tuned a major third above the ci suuf xalam to ensure that the fundamentals of each xalam coincide. Thus, if the ci suuf xalam’s C the following strings are the ardin / middle string is tuned in equivalent to the middle C. The ardin’s lowest note would be a low A and the Ci Kow xalam’s lowest note would be E.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites:


Name: Hoddu.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.5
Country: Gambia, Senegal, Guinea & Mali.
Region: West Africa.

Description: The hoddu a lute played by the Fulani people across many countries throughout West Africa from Gambia, Senegal, Guinea and Mali. In terms of organology the closest relatives of the hoddu include the N’goni [Mali], Xalam [Gambia, Senegal], Kontingo [Gambia] Tidinit [Mauritania]. These instruments and their relatives are the closest candidates for the predecessor of the banjo as they share some construction methods in common.

Construction: The hoddu is constructed from a carved wooden boat-like or trough shaped body. A neck with a tapered shaft is inserted through a hole in the wooden body. The neck is affixed together by the tension of the bridge and five nylon strings. The bridge is piece of gourd is cut into shape to function as a “tail” allowing for the strings to travel from bridge to end of neck.

Tuning is achieved by adjustable rings at the end of the neck of the neck. These rings are strips of hide that are folded together to hold the string in place. The body is completed by a finely stitched membrane of animal hide.

Citations: Bibliography: Websites:


Name: Inanga.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Trough.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 315
Country: Burundi, Rwanda & neighbouring.
Region: Africa.

Description: The inanga is a plucked chordophone that is assigned to the sub-category of the trough zither family. It is known by other regional names including Enanga, Ikivuvu and Indimbagao. It is a fretless trough zither. Although it is Burundi’s best known musical instrument.

It is al distributed in the neighbouring countries including Rwanda, the Kivu region of Eastern Congo and south of Lake Victoria “Ukerewe”. There is a unique musical genre is called “whispered inanga”, the musician whispers a text in a rhythm that corresponds to the repetitive melodic motif. For the listener, the whispered text and the played melody complement each other to a unified singing lecture.

Construction: A string is made from a single fibre or gut. It is about a metre in length depending on total length of zither. There are slits carved on both sides of the zither. Also the chord is tied from one not at the beginning and wrapped around each slit, holding the playing cord in place.

The tuning is often a pentatonic scale. The inanga is held by resting the front end on the ground and the instrument is supported by the musician when sitting or kneeling. It can also be played in the musicians lap. The Inanga is a very quiet instrument.

Citations: Bibliography: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Africa Ruth M. Stone [Google Books] ; Websites: Grinnell College Musical Instrument Collection [Inanga Page] ; Randy Raine-Reusch @ Asza.com [Inanga article] ;


Name: Segankuru.
Type: Chordophones > Zithers > Trough.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 315
Country: South Africa.
Region: Africa.

Description: The segankuru is a bowed trough zither of the Tswana people in Southern Arica. This instrument is also known as the sekebogobo or setseketke by the Pedi [Northern Sotho] people. In its simplest form, now obsolete.

It was identical to the Tshidzholo played by the Venda people, employing mouth resonance. Nowadays resonance is supplied by an empty one-gallon paraffin can placed over the back end, which projects over the player’s left shoulder.

Playing Techniques: Performing practice is otherwise the same as the tshidzholo. Harmonics are elicited through elective bowing technique, and are used melodically for solo playing or to accompany the players singing. Players are always male. Related instruments are the saws, sikhelekehle, Mpondo isigankuri and the Zulu udloko.

Citations: Bibliography: Kirby, MISA, 215, 217, pll. 59, 61 ; Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music, Vol. 3 Book P to z, Page 342 ;


Name: Surbahar.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: Surbahar [in Hindi; सुरबहार in IPA: s̪urbəhɑːr]. The translation for the name surbahar comes to a literal meaning of “Springtime of notes”. The Surbahar a plucked string instrument used in the Hindustani classical music of North India. The surbahar has a dual role it maybe played solo, in accompaniment with another instrument [jugalbandi or collaboration] or in an ensemble.

History: The sitar emerged some time in 1820 during the 19th century. According to some scholars, beenkar Umrao Khan of Lucknow [or some say by his teacher, beenkar Pryar Khan], who belonged to Tansen’s tradition by his daughters lineage. He had a large sitar and named it “surbahar”, to teach the alap, jodalap of druphad anga to his favourite students. Ghulam Mohammad was one of them.

Tuning: Depending on the instrument’s size, it is usually pitched two to five whole steps below the standard sitar in B or Ni in sargam. The sympathetic strings are tuned to the thaat [parent scale] of the raaga being played.

Construction: The surbahar is essentially the same as the sitar. This is true from the body, neck, tuners and occasionally an added tumba or not. There are some features that set this instrument apart from the sitar in which the differences are noticeable. This includes the scale length of the surbahar, between the nut [meru] and the jawara [bridge] determine the length to be 145 cm or more.

The width of the neck is at least 11 cm in diameter of the sound table is over 40 cm. The gourd section of the back the back of the shell flat backed and round. The tied curved frets are often flattened on the bottom for structural support. The pegbox is installed as a separate component, bent back and has a scroll, open at the back with a bilateral [two left, three right] arrangement of the tuning pegs,

Citations: Bibliography: S. M. Tagore: Yantrakoś – on a sitar [Calcutta, 1875 in Bengali] ; C. R. Day: The Music and Musical Instruments of Southern India and the Deccan Delhi, 1891, R1977 ; Suneera Kasliwal, Classical Musical Instruments, Delhi 2001 ; Websites: India-instruments.com [surbahar article]


Name: Arbajo.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.5
Country: Nepal.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The arbajo is a type of Nepali plucked lute, long-necked and four stringed, now described as largely extinct and superseded by the smaller sarinda bowed Nepali sarangi. Some of the few musicians still playing the arbajo are of the Gaine caste, in Lamjung District and Kaski District of western Nepal.

Citations: Bibliography: Carol Tingey, December 1994 – Auspicious music in a changing society: the Dāmai musicians of Nepal. Heritage Publishers ISBN 978-81-7026-193-3 – Retrieved 24 March 2012 [Helffer 1977:51]  ;


Name: Tzouras.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.6
Country: Greece.
Specimen: 1 in collection.
Region: South Eastern Europe > Mediterranean.
Acquisition Date: 1998.
Acquisition Source: Lark In The Morning, Pike Market, Seattle, Washington USA.

Description: The tzouras is a smaller sized lute than its bouzouki counterpart. It is played in Rebetika often as a solo or lead instrument. As with bouzouki both the trikordia [six stringed] tetracordia [eight stringed] are available. Frets are arranged in the chromatic 12 tone system divided per semitone.

Tzouras Tunings
In Greek Courses Tunings
Trikordia 6 string 3 courses D A D
Trikordia 6 string 3 courses D G D
Tetrakordia 8 string 4 course  C F A D
Tetrakordia 8 string 4 course D G B E
Tetrakordia 8 string 4 course A D A D



Name: Genggong.
Type: Idiophones > Lamellaphones > Jawharps > Tension.
Hornbostel Sachs No#: 121.222
Country: Bali, Indonesia.
Region: South East Asia.

Description: The genggong is a bamboo jaw-harp that is found in Bali, Indonesia. It is usually played in pairs. One instrument slightly larger then the other. Corresponding in higher pitch.

These jaw-harps are classified as “tension harps” because the use of the cord to play this type of jaw-harp. These are tension harps and are difficult to play at the speeds normally found in Bali.

Playing Techniques: The two instruments hocket [play interspersed notes] in complex rhythmic patterns, which produce a very intricate and exciting effect.

Usually players hold either a piece of palm or banana leaf beside their mouth when playing to act as a resonator. Together with the Indian morsing, this is one of the world’s most exciting jaw harps styles.

Citations: Bibliography: Randy Raine-Reusch @ asza.com [Genggong article] ;


Name: Kongtha.
Type: Idiophones > Lamellaphones > Jawharps > Tension.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 121.222
Country: Bhutan.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The kongtha is a tension jaw harp from Bhutan. They are made from very thin bamboo and are very light and extremely fragile. Yet due to their lightness, they are also very easy to play.

Citations: Randy Raine-Reusch @ asza.com [Kongtha article] ;

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