How to Play the Akonting
with Sana Ndiaye
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The akonting (or ekonting) is one of almost 60 documented plucked spike lutes found in West Africa, and is considered by some musicologists to be (at the least) one of the primary ancestors of the African/American instrument which became the gourd banjo. Despite its simple appearance, the akonking is capable of sophisticated and fascinating musical expression. It is now, however, only rarely played in the Senegambia -- the region of its origin.
Sequential playing instruction in English for the akonting is presently hard to find. We were fortunate to film Sana Ndiaye, a master player of the akonting, during his residency at the March 2009 Suwannee Banjo Camp outside of Gainesville, Florida, as well as a "roundtable" discussion and demonstration with some of the researchers and players most active in the revival of interest in this instrument.
We are very pleased to present this almost hour-long akonting instructional video with Sana, who presents the material in a simple step-by-step fashion: from history and tuning through simple to more advanced right and left hand techniques, and ending with performance and playing instruction in both traditional and original songs. We hope that it will serve as a stepping stone to even more complete information which is sure to follow.
Due to the difficulty of obtaining an akonting and the difficulty of keeping a traditional instrument in tune, Ships of the Sea Museum has designed a simple available-material akonting with zither pin tuners which keep the strings at the proper tension, and holds yearly akonting and fretless banjo ("canjo") making workshops. Sana himself plays an akonting of his own design in the video to follow (and tunes it to a higher range – Ab, C, Bb where Ab is the thumb string – when playing with his band, rather than the standard Ab, D, C tuning.) You will be able to find more information about the cookie-tin resonator akontings built at Ships of the Sea by watching the companion akonting construction video, the canjo playing and construction videos, and the akonting "roundtable" video to be posted on the Museum website (www.shipsofthesea.org) There are also plans to make a dvd available in the future which will contain all of the Museum's akonting and canjo videos, including some bonus material from both this video and the accompanying "roundtable" video.
Sana Ndiaye was born in the village of Djembering in the southern region of Senegal. He began to play the akonting as a small boy, taught by his grandfather in the traditional manner of the Jola people. Over the years Sana continued to balance his schooling with playing the akonting for community functions and celebrations, and developed many innovations which have expanded the repertoire of the instrument.
In his mid-20's, Sana moved to Dakar
to join his parents who were living there. While in Dakar, he met the
early members of the band "Gokh-Bi System" ("neighborhood system")
or GBS, who were looking to expand their hip-hop group with traditional
instrumentation. Sana and GBS have toured extensively in the US, playing
festivals, halls, clubs and schools. Sana also performs and teaches
as a solo artist, playing both traditional and original music. As probably
the only traditionally-trained akonting player presently residing in
the US, he is an enormously valuable musical resource. For more information
on Sana and GBS:
|Segment One: Introduction and Basic Akonting Playing Techniques 14:59|
|1:02||Introductory Comments and History of the Akonting|
|2:50||The Traditional Akonting and Sana's Innovations|
|6:21||Song: "Vieux Omar"|
|11:23||Basic Right Hand Technique (Striking the Strings)|
|13:09||Basic Left Hand Technique (Stopping the Strings)|
|13:58||Stopping the Middle String: A Short Introduction (Song: "Mother Earth")|
|(continued in segment 3)|
|Segment Two: Advanced Playing Techniques and Songs for the Akonting 19:39|
|:21||How to Play "Children"|
|2:12||Sana Plays "Children"|
|5:49||"Tricky Ways of Playing" (Right and Left Hand Ornamentation)|
|10:55||How to Play "Circumcision Song" (Introduction and Instruction)|
|14:52||Sana Plays "Circumcision Song"|
|17:44||Close-ups of Right and Left Hand Techniques Used in "Circumcision Song"|
|Segment Three: Sana's Original Songs for the Akonting 21:24|
|:22||Introduction to "Mother Earth"|
|:59||Song: "Mother Earth" (showing how to stop the second string)|
|13:12||How to Play "Children" (Additional Techniques)|
|16:25||Song: "Song for Women"|