Instrument Building And Repair Project

The overarching objective of Music In Africa Foundation’s Instrument Building and Repair (IBR) project is to encourage the formalisation and professionalisation of instrument-making and repair in Africa, especially in relation to indigenous African instruments.

Background

In 2014, the Music In Africa Foundation (MIAF) identified as one of its focus areas for development the need to encourage young people from music and music-related sectors to consider instrument-making as a career. This need extended itself from the recognition that the making of traditional African instruments is not a widely practiced skill and seems to be limited to the older generation.

Traditional African instrument makers are also few and far between, making communication and logistics between teachers and learners an obstacle. When instrument building workshops take place, budgetary constraints do not allow teachers or learners the time to explore the finer details of an instrument.

Based on these observations, the MIAF designed and piloted the first IBR workshop at the Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA) in Zanzibar in February 2015.

In 2016, the foundation received funding from the South African National Lotteries Commission to implement a much bigger version of the project in Johannesburg. The project drew participants from five African countries. 25 students from South Africa, Ghana, Senegal, Kenya and Ethiopia were trained on how to build and repair musical instruments. The instruments that they made were:

  • Traditional Instruments: Umakhweyana and Marimba
  • Conventional Instrument: Dulcimer guitar

The workshop culminated in a traditional instruments concert at the Wits Theatre in Johannesburg.

It is the MIAF’s aim to roll out similar workshops in as many African countries as possible over the next few years.

Objectives

  • Developing awareness of musical instrument makers in Africa with a view to promote their work to a wider global audience.
  • Facilitating the sharing and transfer of skills in indigenous instruments between countries on the continent.
  • Encouraging the formalisation and professionalisation of instrument-making and repair in Africa, especially in relation to indigenous instruments.
  • Helping instrument makers develop their careers.
  • Fostering the rapid monetisation and sustainable development of instrument-making and repair in Africa.
  • Promoting constant exchange of ideas, expertise, experiences and know-how among instrument makers in Africa.
  • Facilitating the identification of existing gaps in the field with a view to contribute new solutions.
  • Facilitating the transfer of knowledge and skills of indigenous instruments between younger and older generations.

The experts

Marimba-making trainer

Christian Carver is a tinkerer, fixer, environmentalist, cultural preservationist, toolmaker, visionary and more importantly a renowned instrument maker. He is director of African Musical Instruments in Grahamstown, South Africa. The company is known for making high-quality kalimbas and marimbas, which are distributed worldwide.

“Christian’s eagerness and passion to teach and share this fine craft with aspirant instrument makers at Music In Africa’s Instrument Building and Repair workshop is refreshing and inspiring, and we are really looking forward to the experience,” Music In Africa director Eddie Hatitye says.

Guitar-making trainer

South Africa-born Luigi Marucchi is a master guitar craftsman and luthier extraordinaire, who is based in Cape Town. He encapsulates the essence of the workshops in his observations during a visit to Cremona, Italy. “Cremona in Italy was a source of inspiration,” he says. “There are 150 registered instrument makers making a living in this tiny town. The quality of the instruments is astounding. I just kept thinking that I wanted to do this full-time and not just as a hobby.” This resonates strongly with one of Music In Africa’s main outcomes for this workshop: to encourage, promote and support the choice of instrument-making as a viable career opportunity.

Umakhweyana training team

Bavikile Ngema (MaBhengu) was born in 1951 in the Nkandla district of KwaZulu-Natal. A prolific composer and virtuoso player on the umakhweyana and umqangala (umbheleza) Nguni musical bows, she also performs on harmonica and indigenous harp. Bavikile learnt to play these instruments by watching and imitating her sisters and cousins. Her unique umakhweyana playing technique elicits a fourth fundamental note from the single-stringed instrument. She has over the years perfected the art and science of umakhweyana-making. She’s able to uproot the pros and cons of which materials to use for the required sound and occasion of her instrument. Being a custodian of umakhweyana, she has also been a scholars’ subject of research over the years.

Mpho Molikeng, a multifaceted Lesotho-born artist, indigenous instrument maker, curator, actor, musician, poet, painter, storyteller and cultural activist, will join MaBhengu’s instrument trainers’ team to deliver an authentic sharing of skills that has been passed down from generation to generation in rural KwaZulu-Natal – a rare occasion which Music In Africa is honoured to offer to its participants and stakeholders.

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