Spotlight on African musical instruments

31st March 2017

This week, the Africa Day team has taken a look at a number of traditional African musical instruments. We are all music lovers here and can’t wait for the performances on the Africa Day Dublin stages Kwassa Kwassa, Atilogwu and Malaika on Sunday, 21st May.

Keep an eye on the Africa Day website and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as we announce details of who will be performing at this year’s event over the coming weeks!


Sometimes referred to as a thumb piano, the mbira is popular throughout West and Central Africa. Originally constructed from bamboo, the modern version of the instrument comes with metal strips and a resonator made from wood. Having first come to prominence thanks to the recordings and performances of musicians Thomas Mapfumo and Dumisani Maraire, the mbira’s tuneful sounds are now enjoyed across the continent.

The Balafon

Resembling a xylophone or African Marimba, the balafon is a percussive instrument made from wooden planks placed across beams and bound loosely with string. Its sound is produced by hitting the wood with miniature sticks. Played in Africa since the 14th century and believed to have originated in Mali, the instrument remains popular throughout Ghana, Mali, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.


Consisting of a dried gourd with beads woven into a net covering the gourd, the Shekere is played either by shaking it or slamming it against the hands. Variations on the instrument are played across West Africa and the instrument’s famous rattle can be heard throughout Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo and Ghana.

The Kora

One of Africa’s most complex and challenging instruments, the kora consists of 21 strings over a gourd with the skin of an animal and is often compared to the harp. Said to have originated in Gambia, it remains popular in countries such as Ivory Coast, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Benin and Mali.