Music has been integral to African cultures almost since the dawn of humankind. Most African cultures made music before they ever developed a written language. A variety of unique instruments help to create the sounds of African songs. Many of these instruments are fairly easy to make and play.
A popular instrument from Kenya and Tanzania is the bazara. To make one, you will need three empty tin cans of the same size. You will also need a can opener, sturdy tape, a towel and a wooden spoon. Use the can opener to cut off the bottoms of two of the cans (the tops of all three cans should already be gone if the contents have been used). Make sure all three cans are completely clean. Take the can with the bottom attached and place it upright, with the open end skyward. Take one of the other cans and place it on top of the first one, forming a tube. Tape the two cans together. Take the last can and tape it on top of the second can, extending the tube.
To play the instrument, place the towel on the floor. Shake the bazara vertically so that the covered end bangs against the padded floor. It will make a vibrating sound. Take the wooden spoon and tap the sides to create a slightly different tone.
Many elements of African music mimic sounds found in nature. To make one called a rainstick, you will need a long, sturdy cardboard tube, such as from a roll of wrapping paper. You will also need hobby wire cut into long pieces; clear packing tape; and dry rice, beans or lentils. You may also want materials to decorate the instrument.
Use the packing tape to cover and seal one end of the tube. Take the strands of wire and fold each up into a ball. Stuff the balls of wire into the tube until it is full. Then pour the beans, rice or lentils down the tube. The wire should act as a mesh to filter the dry food items. Seal the open end with packing tape.
To play the instrument, hold it upright until all of the dry foods have settled at one end. Then flip it over and listen as the dry foods work their way back down the tube. You can adjust the speed of the sound by adjusting the angle of the tube.
Styles of drums vary throughout the continent, depending on what local resources are available. Some are made of hollowed-out tree trunks. Others come from dried gourds. No matter what the materials, all you need to make an African drum is an empty container, some fabric and a large rubber band.
Take the container and cover the top with the fabric. Take the rubber band and wrap it around the top of the container, so it pulls the fabric tight. To play the drum, simply tap on the top of the now-tight fabric.
Melissa Langley Biegert has worked in educational publishing since 1992. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in government from Harvard University, a master's degree in ethics and history from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas. She is the author or co-author of several nonfiction books.