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South African Musical Instruments

South African music and its instruments are a hybrid of Western music influence with traditional African music.
South Africa image by bluefern from Fotolia.com

South African music blends the traditional sounds of African music with influences from Western music. Western instruments such as flutes, harps, guitars and trumpets have helped to shape the South African sound and lent themselves to the creation of new instruments. Missionaries to South Africa brought a variety of hymns that South African orchestras played and choirs sang. The hymns influenced native South Africans to create their own hymns as they used Western instruments to adapt their traditional songs. This led to a musical hybridization that still resound in modern South African music.


The South African ramkie is a homemade guitar constructed from an empty oil can and pieces of thin bicycle wire attached to a wooden guitar neck. The ramkie has four to six strings that use an open tuning method. Other versions of ramkie guitars have been made with tin cans and empty plastic containers. Any type of music can be played on the ramkie, but it is best suited for native South African music styles.


The mamokhorong is a single-string violin developed in South Africa. The Khoi, a group of aboriginal South Africans, used the mamokhorong in their traditional music. It is played regularly in the dances of the culturally rich Cape Town area. The mamokhorong was modeled after the violin of Western culture.


The chipendani is a mouth bow from South Africa and Zimbabwe. It is shaped like a hunting bow and consists of one thin string that runs from one tip of the bow to the other. A smaller string divides the longer string into sections, which allows two pitches tuned a fifth, fourth or octave apart. Chipendani players use their mouths to create the full, rich sound of the instrument.

Penny whistle

Also known as a tin whistle, the penny whistle is perhaps the most popular of all instruments used in South African music. It is a staple instrument in kwela music, a native South African jive. The term "kwela" stems from the Zulu word for "get up" and is also a slang term for police vans. According to SouthAfrica.info, kwela music was used as a way to get people up to dance and also to warn citizens of nearby policemen.

The penny whistle is popular because it is small and affordable, but also because it is similar to the different types of flutes played in northern parts of South Africa.

Zulu Cocoon Rattles

Zulu tribe members wear cocoon rattles around their ankles to create percussive music while they dance. The rattles consist of several rows of cocoons stitched onto calfskin. The Zulus also wear cocoon rattles, part of the traditional tribal ceremonial dress, for wedding ceremonies.

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