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Link to this year's index by clicking here.


Musical Instrument Museum, Part 12

Ceremonial music honors the seasons and sustains life for all southwestern tribes, including the O'odham, Hopi, Pueblo, Navajo and Apache.

Rain dances are especially important for the O'odham, or Desert people, as well as for the Hopi who live on high arid mesas. Navajo (Diné) origin stories are sung in ceremonial chants. Rendered uniquely by each tribe, village and clan, songs mark the high moments of life and every rite of passage from birth to death.

Ceremonial songs are accompanied by instruments such as rattles, flutes, bullroarers and drums. The Pueblo fashion their instruments in the colors of red, blue, yellow and white corn (as seen on this drum from the Cochiti Pueblo people of New Mexico) which carry sacred meanings and associations.


This rattle is from the Hopi people of Arizona and also shows the unique coloring employed for these instruments.

The music of the Plains is centered on religious ceremonies, such as the Sun Dance, as well as on pow-wows and other social gatherings.

The societies that inhabited the Plains once relied on buffalo for food and material items. Musical instruments made with buffalo hide and horsehair are common, as are those made with beads. Aside from the big drum played by three or more players simultaneously, the Plains peoples also favor hand drums (such as the frame drum pictured here) and rattles made of gourds or buffalo hides (such as the rattle pictured below).


Dances express the spirit of the Plains peoples. Each dance has its own regalia. The Gourd Dance regalia, for example, includes a sash, woolen broadcloth blanket, fan and gourd rattle. The regalia at pow-wows are especially ornate and beautiful.

The rattle shown here is made from a buffalo tail and is from the Osage people of Oklahoma.


As I continued to stroll through the North American exhibit hall, I encountered a beautiful set of taiko drums. Wait a minute — this is supposed to be instruments from North American but taiko drums are from Japan. So I HAD to read the placard carefully.

"Although drumming has been a part of life in Japan for centuries, the popular communal style called kumi-daiko, or just plain taiko, emerged after World War II and blossomed in North America."

This drum is a hira daiko. I just call it "big".


"Especially on the West Coast, Japanese-American communities adopted this new form and made it distinctive. Their compositions moved beyond a strictly Japanese heritage to reflect local experiences, even borrowing from jazz, blues and classical music. In contrast to Japanese tradition, women participate extensively."

This drum is an ojime daiko. I call it "bigger".


"Recycling locally available materials such as salvaged wine barrels proved more cost effective than buying traditional drums carved from a single piece of wood. Today, the 'wine-barrel drum' is a hallmark of North American taiko. From a seed planted by Japanese immigrants, hundreds of ensembles now flourish in the United States and Canada."

This drum is a nagado odaiko. I call it "biggest".


Accordions must be the Rodney Dangerfield of instruments — the brunt of jokes of many comedians — they don't get no respect. However, give the accordion the respect it is due — especially since it has become a defining element of Cajun music's characteristic sound. Strongly associated with Louisiana, the historical roots of this music are actually much further north. "Cajun" comes from the term "Acadian", which refers to French immigrant communities in Canada who were exiled by the British and settled in Louisiana in the 18th century. There, Acadian settlers combined their fiddle music with instruments like the accordion, brought to the region by other immigrant groups.

The Cajan accordion pictured here was made by Marc Savoy — from rare Louisiana red pine salvaged from a Civil War-era building on Savoy's family farm.


Stepping offshore from the North American continent, we find that Cuba boasts one of the most vibrant and influential musical cultures in the world today.

A long-standing intersection of Cuban and American musical styles created son, CuBop and the big-band mambo craze. These styles have greatly influenced the development of jazz and dance styles such as salsa, both in Cuba and in the United States.

In addition to its rich Spanish musical legacy, Cuba resounds with music introduced by African slaves, Haitian immigrants in its eastern provinces and Chinese indentured laborers. The batá drums, iyesá drums and chekere beaded gourds are examples of Yoruba musical practices, while rumba played on cajón drums and congas, is a creole genre combining Spanish song with Congolese and Efik drumming and dancing. The trompeta china derives from Chinese populations and is used in comparsa street carnivals.

The drum pictured here is a tamboritos batá (double-headed conical drum) made of wood, goatskin and silk string.


The musical culture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines illustrates the diversity so often associated with the Caribbean.

While calypso, soca, reggae and steel-pan styles dominate this nation's soundscape, Big Drum traditions (shared with other Windward Islands) also appear in a variety of social settings. Lyrics filled with cutting social commentary and lavishly costumed dancers are mainstays of Big Drum festivals. Though historically crafted from tree trunks, St. Vincent's big drums are now more frequently made from rum barrels.

Musical innovation takes other forms as well. The Harmonites String Band features a set of tuned tin cups or "mini" steelpans, alongside the banjo, cuatro, guitar, bass steel drum and maracas. Bélè music and quadrilles are popular song-and-dance forms reflecting the islands' African and European heritages, respectively.


Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao share a peculiar cylinder piano (shown here) brought by the Dutch colonizers to the islands in the 19th century.

This mechanical ka'i organ played dance music accompanied live by rhythms on the wiri, a penetrating metal scraper. These complex rhythms transformed the European waltz style into the characteristic Creole Curaçao waltz.

Among the oldest traditions in Bonaire and Curaçao are harvest festivals, called Simadan in Bonaire and Seu in Curaçao. The canes of sorghum, an important local crop, were also used to make instruments such as the beku single-reed pipe played for Simadan.

Because colonial plantation owners banned African-based drumming, slaves developed ensembles with softer sounds that could go unnoticed. For example, Curaçao's ethereal sounding muzik di zumbi ("ghostly music") ensemble or the bamba stamping tubes in Bonaire could produce the same patterns that were played on drums.

To be continued...

Life is good.

Aloha,
B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com