My banjo found me at a thrift store.  Keep your eyes open . . . you never know where you might find treasure!

 

Banjo  on stand

 

 

The banjo belongs to the family of chordophones, or instruments that produce sound through the vibration of strings.  Although some believe the banjo is a uniquely American invention, its real origins are in Africa, and it is many hundreds of years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banjo close-up

 

 

The modern banjo is a descendant of instruments that were drums with strings stretched over them, and were found in the Far East, Middle East, and Africa.  Early versions of the banjo were spread throughout countries engaged in the slave trade.  The banjo first came to America with the slaves from West Africa.

 

 

Banjo close-up

 

 

The banjo bears a striking resemblance to the ‘akonting,’ from Gambia, both in appearance and playing style.  The first banjos were made from gourds and a long wooden neck, sometimes made of bamboo.

 

 

 

 

 

banjo leaning on trunk

 

Thomas Jefferson, refers to the early banjo in his, “Notes on America,” in 1781.  “The instrument proper to them (i.e. the slaves) is the Banjar, which they brought hither from Africa.”  The banjo in its early form was known by many names, bangie, bangoe, banjil, banshaw, and banza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

banjo leaning on trunk

 

 

 

Most people recognize the metal rim and wooden resonator as the only form of the modern day banjo, but there are still beautiful gourd banjos being made.  Some time in the late 1700’s, a 5th string peg was added halfway up the neck of the banjo.  Metal strings were added in the late 1850’s, and frets appeared about 1878.

 

 

 

 

 

 

banjo laying on trunk

The banjo was a popular instrument on the American frontier, not only because of its portability, but it was also the instrument of the South, the birthplace of many a cowboy.  One in seven cowboys were African-American, and some were former Confederate soldiers seeking jobs after the war.

 

 

 

The banjo has grown in form and popularity over the centuries and has become a familiar accompaniment to many different styles of music today.

 

 

Here are some great videos of akonting players.  Notice the similarity to the playing style known as claw hammer, or frailing, on the banjo.

 

 

 

 

 

Love this video of an actual intermediate akonting lesson from West African player, Remi Jatta!  He begins his strumming patterns slowly, and then speeds them up . . . be sure to watch the whole video.

 

 

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New Release

Diane's new single, an original, finger-style guitar tune, "Afternoon By A Stream," is out now on iTunes!

You can also purchase a download directly through CD Baby on Diane's SHOP page.

 

An image of a young boy wading in a shallow stream surrounded by moss-covered, sandstone cliffs