DAVE DARGIE : Ruwenge: Researching a Kavango Jew’s harp, SOUTH AFRICA


Ruwenge: Researching a Kavango Jew’s harp

 

Dave Dargie

 

Ruwenge:  The Discovery of an African Jew’s Harp constructed with a Frame.

 

The author’s work as ethnomusicologist

 

During the period 1977-1989 I worked as a promoter of new African church music for the Catholic Church in southern Africa,[1] for much of the time (1979-1989) running a department of church music full time for the Lumko pastoral institute.[2] My work took me far and wide in southern Africa, often working on missions in remote areas and with people of many different languages. Having had little experience with African music, I went to see Andrew Tracey when I was about to start this work, as he was busy moving the International Library of African Music (ILAM) from Roodepoort to Rhodes University. I was based at Rhodes as a music theorist working within a musicological paradigm.

 

The view of Hugh and Andrew Tracey – as is well known – was that Christian missionary activity of various sorts had done considerable damage to traditional African music in many countries, trying to stamp out ‘heathen culture’ including ‘pagan’ practices of music and dancing. Now a Christian missionary had come to ILAM for advice! Having given me a strong picture of the problems caused by missionaries, Andrew then heaped advice on me both to try to prevent me from doing more damage, and to guide me towards providing some ‘healing of the rift’ in the field. From then on, therefore, I worked within a dual frame of reference: encouraging African church musicians to bring their music into the church – with its rhythms, melodies and harmonies, instruments, and its faithfulness to the tones and accents of the texts being sung; and ‘preserving’ in the best way that I then knew in the field (through recordings and other documentation, including transcriptions) whatever traditional music I came across. Some of my most exciting and interesting experiences, both in promoting new church music and in seeking out traditional music, were in the remoter areas of Namibia.

 

In the same sense that Wordsworth described the origin of poetry as ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, so I as an ethnomusicologist see the results of my research as recollections of an experience that remians once the processes of field work are laid aside. In 1979, in Namibia, I met a German professor who had spent some years doing research among the Bushmen. When I suggested that it would be extremely interesting to have access to his material when he had written it up, his response was that would take him at least the next twenty years. I have come to feel the same about my work: it is almost twenty years since I worked in Kavango, and I am still busy with the challenge of writing up my research, of ‘recollecting’ on that ‘emotion’.

 

In the heat of those hectic times in the 1980s I was driven by a feeling of necessity to respond to the challenges presented to me by Andrew Tracey. I was constantly on fire with my dual mission of transforming church music and preserving traditional music. In this state of romantic fervour, I tried to chase down what I expected to be there, and the increasingly rare musical bows were my particular interest (see Dargie 1985, 1986b, 1987, and 1988). Drums there were in plenty, and there were still some survivals of mbira types. Looking back now, I realize that some of the most astounding things were the unexpected: the techniques and instruments for which I had no forewarning. Such was my discovery of the first documented overtone singing in Africa among the Thembu Xhosa (see Dargie 1996, and 1997).  Such also was my first encounter with ruwenge. With the Xhosa umngqokolo overtone singing I at once realised, with great excitement, that I had come across something rare and rich and strange. With ruwenge, it took me a long time to appreciate that this was also something extremely rare, with a richness of its own.

 

 

On Jew’s harps

 

If ever there was a misnomer for a musical instrument, it was to call the Jew’s harp a ‘Jew’s harp’, which evokes the biblical instrument played by King David. Whatever that instrument was, whether it was similar to the Greek cithara or lyra or was a true species of harp, it was not what we call a ‘Jew’s harp’ in ethnomusicological terms. According to Sybil Marcuse, the term ‘Jew’s harp’ goes back at least to 1595, and the term ‘Jewes trump’ is even older (1964, 264). Curt Sachs strongly favoured the term ‘Jaw’s harp’, calling ‘Jew’s harp’ a misnomer (1940, 58 ff). John Wright in Grove music online gives other names: (English) gewgaw, (Latin) crembalum, (French) guimbarde and trompe de Béarn, (German Brummeisen and Maultrommel, (Italian) ribeba and scaccia pensieri, and (Spanish) trompa (Macy, ed., accessed 2008). The German Maultrommel (mouth drum) comes closer to the reality, and especially when applied to ruwenge.

 

Together with E.M. von Hornbostel, Curt Sachs developed the famous classification system of musical instruments according to the way they produce sound (Hornbostel and Sachs, 1914 [passim]).  Following this system, Sachs describes the Jew’s Harp as an idiophone played by plucking, but refers to the effect that the breath may also have on the sounding lamella of the instrument (Sachs 1940, p. 58).  An idiophone produces sound from the substance of the instrument itself.  The Jew’s harp is normally sounded by plucking, but it is possible to sound it with the breath alone.  It consists of a frame and a lamella. If the lamella is attached into the frame, it is classified as a ‘heteroglot idiophone’; if the lamella is ‘carved in the frame itself, its base remaining joined to the frame’ (Macy, ed., accessed 2008), it is an idioglot idiophone.  Sachs (1940, p. 58) refers to “idioglottic jaw’s harps” and “heteroglottic jaw’s harps”.  Peter Simon’s small work (2004) pins down the Hornbostel/Sachs classification code numbers of the two types of Jew’s harps as 121.21 – Idioglotte Maultrommeln and 121.22 – Heteroglotte Maultrommeln.Almost by definition the Jew’s harp is a melody instrument, producing melody by resonating the overtones of the instruments vibrating lamella. ‘[I]t is also used for rhythmic purposes; in India it sometimes supplements the sound of a tuned drum’ (grove music online, Macy, ed., accessed 2008).

 

The European Jew’s harp, as played for example in Bavarian folk music, is widespread. It is made of two parts: a metal frame, and a springy metal (steel) tongue (lamella) attached into the frame (see Fig 1). The frame is shaped into a round part which can be held by the player, and the ends are extended straight, parallel to the inserted metal tongue. The lamella is fastened into the metal at the apex of the frame, extends just beyond the ends of the parallel points of the frame, and is then bent at a right angle away from the frame. The end of the lamella is curved slightly, so that the player can pluck it easily. The player holds the instrument by the frame, with the narrow ends of the frame against the teeth, and plucks the lamella. By shaping the mouth, the player is able to select overtones from the vibrations of the lamella, and can amplify them further by use of the breath, blowing on the lamella. Such a Jew’s Harp can play a seven-note scale, approximately the diatonic major scale, against the background drone of the fundamental tone. The pitch of the fundamental depends on the length of the straight part of the lamella, and on the weight of the lamella.

 

Various Jew’s harps are found in Asia. The best known example was introduced to South Africans by Vietnamese musicologist Dr Trân Quang Hai of the Museé de l’homme in Paris,[3] who attended two Ethnomusicology Symposia in Cape Town (1984 and 1997).[4] At the 39th World Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) in Vienna in July 2007, he gave a paper on the Dan Môi Jew’s harp of the Hmong people of North Viet Nam, an instrument which he has been promoting for 30 years, and which has come from the verge of extinction to a considerable revival, thanks to Hai’s efforts.[5] There are Asian Jew’s harps of metal, some with frame and tongue carved out of the same piece of bamboo (see Fig 1), some played by plucking and some by pulling a string attached to the frame. One thing all these Jew’s harps have in common is that, like the European version, they produce melody by the player resonating the overtones of the instrument’s tongue by shaping the mouth. The ruwenge of Kavango in Namibia, however, is something quite different.

 

 

Fig 1  The familiar shape of the metal European Jew’s Harp (a heteroglot idiophone) and an Asian Jew’s Harp made from a single slip of Bamboo (an idioglot idiophone)

 

 

Jew’s Harps in Africa

 

Apart from Professor Kirby (Kirby 1936) and Norborg (Norborg 1987), (cf the discussion below), most major texts on African music give no evidence for the Jew’s harp in Africa (see for example Ankermann 1976; Collaer and Elsner 1983; Gansemans and Schmidt-Wrenger 1986; Kubik 1982 and 1989; Stone 1997). Mention is made of Europe, south and south-east Asia, Indonesia and Oceania and New Zealand however. The nearest anyone comes to Africa is Curt Sachs, who notes that ‘[i]n Hawaii and the Marquesas Islands a piece of bamboo is deeply notched at one end; a sliver of bamboo held over the notch vibrates when the singing voice is projected against it. Similar contrivances are used in Melanesia and in East Africa’ (1940, 58). The intrusion of the European Jew’s harp into South Africa is known mainly through the work of Percival Kirby (1968).

 

19th century European traders brought metal Jew’s harps to Africa.  In South Africa they became very popular with traditional African musicians but are now extremely rare.[6] The playing method, resonating overtones by shaping the mouth, is like the method used in playing mouth-bows, so (in my experience as a field-worker) people who knew mouth-bow technique easily adapted to the Jew’s harps from Europe. In Xhosa the European Jew’s harp is called isitolotolo, a name clearly derived from the word setolotolo which is a type of braced mouth bow played (by plucking) by the people of Lesotho, neighbours of the Xhosa. The renowned contemporary Xhosa musician Madosini plays the uhadi calabash bow, the umrhubhe mouth bow, and isitolotolo.[7] Isitolotolo is also used by the Ngqoko Traditional Xhosa Music Ensemble and by the University of Fort Hare Music Department’s Indigenous Orchestra.[8] I recorded the European Jew’s harp played by both Northern and Southern Sotho musicians during the 1980s. In 1984 I recorded Xhosa musician Ms Feti Totoyi on a farm near Elliot in the Eastern Cape, playing the instrument while simultaneously whistling, also a very specialised technique in Xhosa umrhubhe mouth-bow playing.[9] Ms Totoyi needed a lower pitched fundamental tone to bring the melody range of my Jew’s harp into her whistling pitch range, I recall, so she pulled a piece of thin wire from the mesh of a fly-swatter and wound it round the bent end of the steel tongue. The increase in weight had the desired result of lowering the pitch, so she could whistle with the instrument.

 

Indigenous Jew’s harps are extremely rare in southern Africa. Percival Kirby only found European Jew’s harps actually played while he was conducting his research in the late 1920s and early ’30s, but – significantly and tantalisingly – he noted in passing that they were (at that time) ‘widespread’ because they were relatively ‘simple’ to play since ‘in principle [the instrument] is the same as some of those of the native people’, as well as ‘portable and lasting’ (1968, 259). He does not, however, indicate further what instruments ‘the same as some of those of the native people’ were, and has no discussion or illustrations of anything closer to an indigenous Jew’s Harp to than the Sotho setololo mouth bow .

 

In his article on Bushman music, however, he mentions a ‘rudimentary’ form of Jew’s harp, made of thin, tough grass, called _//ku //kx?a¯si (Kirby 1935, 375). The player Kirby saw held the grass stalk with the main portion of the grass lying across his mouth, and plucked it while breathing in and out. The sound produced is a ‘rapid whirring’, which may be varied, and appeared to be used ‘for suggesting the movements of various animals’ Ibid). The pitch was not definite, but could be varied by the player altering the shape of the mouth. Kirby distinguishes two pitch levels, and transcribes only one short example. He also notes that it was ‘played chiefly by boys and girls’ (376).

 

Åke Norborg, writing about musical instruments in Namibia and Botswana (Norborg 1987) also mentions Jew’s harps without a frame, consisting of a piece of thin, flexible material held between the lips, one particular instrument consisting of a short piece of thin wood or grass (pp 73-74). He notes a reported example from the Kwanyama (an Ovambo people) of Angola, and says “they are likely to be, or to have been, used by many other ethnic groups in Namibia and Botswana…” (p. 73).  He gives several names for the instrument apparently used by Bushman and Nama people. The Nama name (//habuhaib) is based on a word (//Habu) meaning the ‘bolting of frightened animals’ (p. 73).

 

 

Ruwenge in Kavango

 

In 1979, 1981, twice in 1982 and again in 1988, working for Lumko pastoral institute, I conducted series of workshops in Namibia at which people composed new church music in traditional styles. The peoples with whom I worked were Damara, Ovambo, Herero, Lozi (in the Caprivi), and Kavango. The work was rewarding with all these peoples, but the most fruitful area of work was undoubtedly Kavango. At that time the missionaries told me that there were only about 23 000 people living in Kavango, the part of Namibia lying along the Okavango river bordering Angola to the north, and stretching from Ovambo in the west to where the Okavango flows down to Botswana in the east, at the western end of the Caprivi. The main towns are Nkurenkuru in the west (where I did not work), Rundu, the capital of Kavango in the centre, and Andara (a very small town) in the east. Although there were only 23000 inhabitants they had five languages: from the west, Bunya (which some missionaries told me is very similar to if not the same as Kwangali), Kwangali, Sambiu, Gciriku, and Mbukushu. Apart from Bunya and Kwangali (and perhaps Sambiu), there are important differences between the languages. Gciriku has a click consonant, c, pronounced as in Xhosa (and the vaGciriku were the only ‘Bantu’ language people I worked with beside the Xhosa who had a click consonant in their name). Mbukushu has the sibilant consonant th, pronounced as in English. The local peoples also insisted that there were important stylistic differences in the music, even from village to village, although these differences might not be immediately apparent to an outsider. I worked at missions (starting from the west) at Tondoro (1981) and Bunya (1979) (both Bunya or Kwangali people), Rundu (Kwangali people, in1981), Sambiu (about 50 km east of Rundu with Sambiu people, in 1981, 1982 and briefly again in 1988), at Nyangana (Gciriku people) (1979 and 1988) and Andara (Mbukushu) (1979 and 1988).

 

As far as possible I encouraged participants in my church music workshops, while not directly borrowing from traditional songs, to compose in the local musical styles and with the local musical instruments. In Kavango this was generally successful. One of the workshops from which the information that follows particualrly comes, was in Rundu in 1981. In addition to having the services of some excellent drummers, we were fortunate to find people who could play two different types of mouth bow: a plucked bow called rugoma, and the notched friction mouth bow called kaworongongo in ruKwangali, the local Kavango language. All these musicians contributed to the composition work.[10] I also took the opportunity of looking around for other musical instruments, with the assistance of the missionary (Father H. Duttmann, priest in charge at the Catholic mission in Rundu), some of the nuns who worked with him, and two women who played mouth bows, Ms J. Kapande and Ms M. Mpingana.  Some boys sang for us while drumming on wooden tea boxes. One of them then produced a small instrument made from a piece of sorghum stalk. He stepped forward to show it to me – it was clearly a type of self-made Jew’s harp.  A throng of his companions swarmed around enthusiastically. He played the instrument, and I recorded him and photographed him playing (see Fig 2). He called the instrument ngoma zosir’wenge. Interestingly, ngoma in Kavango (as in other languages), means a drum. Ngoma zosir’wenge means, literally, ‘the drum which is ruwenge’, and is a Jew’s harp. While I found the instrument interesting, I was not particularly struck by it at the time. It was a few years before I realised either the rarity or the amazing potential of the instrument.

 

 

 

Fig 2 Boy Playing Ngoma zosir’wenge, Rundu, 1981. Photograph © Dave Dargie

 

 

In 1988 I was again on a church music workshop tour in Namibia. This time Andrew Tracey, my earlier mentor, came with me, for our second joint trip to Namibia (the first being in 1982). Having heard about the music I found on my earlier trips in 1979 and 1981, he was keen to experience the music for himself; and he was of course of great help to me, especially with locating musicians. For example, while I was tied down working with the church musicians he would often take the chance to wander around, keeping eyes and ears open. At the end of this tour, after we had worked at the eastern end of Kavango at Andara, and further afield at Katima in the Caprivi, we were returning westwards. It had been a very pleasant trip, but quite tense. We were driven around by Father Bernhard Wolf, a priest from Windhoek, and had spent plenty of the time in laughter and conviviality. However, on the way from Nyangana to Andara the car broke a CV joint.  ‘Wolfie’ and I had to be carried in the broken-down car to Andara on the back of a huge lorry. It took ages to get the problem sorted out. In the end, a new CV joint had to be flown to Katima in Caprivi for us, and Father Alois Kapp, the missionary at Andara, fetched it from Katima and repaired the car himself. In addition, the drive band had broken on my Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder. I had a packet of ordinary rubber bands and managed to make the machine work by winding a rubber band over the drive parts. Each lasted for only a few recordings, but I kept going until we reached Katima, when I was able to get some authentic Uher drive bands flown in from Johannesburg (also collected by Father Kapp). To my delight, I found out later that all the recordings had come out excellently.  Everything worked out fine in the end, but we were much delayed.

 

On the way back from Caprivi we called in for a meal at the mission at Sambiu (in the local language ruSambiu), some 50 km east of Rundu, where I had had the workshop years earlier. Sambiu was always an interesting place to work, but now we had no spare time. However, the people there were just in the process of rehearsing some of their own compositions for performance in church over the coming week-end. There were hundreds singing in the church, so I ran for my tape recorder and got some excellent recordings.[11]  While this was happening, Andrew took the chance of having a look around the village. When I had finished recording I found Andrew waiting in the priest’s house with an elderly blind man.  He was Mr K. Karupu, and Andrew had found him playing a Jew’s Harp of the same type as I had encountered in Rundu in 1981. He called it simply ruwenge, and what he could do with it was remarkable (see Fig 3).

 

 

Fig 3   Mr K. Karupu playing Ruwenge, Sambiu, 1988. Photograph © Dave Dargie

 

 

Ruwenge as Mr Karapu played it is made by cutting a piece from a stalk of sorghum (called mahangu in Kavango) of about 10 to 12 cm long. The outside of the stalk dries very hard, but the inside, being pith, remains soft. The piece of stalk is cut so as to leave a tongue or lamella of hard outer stalk projecting beyond the body of the instrument, and the lamella is extended along the body of the instrument by careful cutting (see Fig 4). The lamella is therefore free for part of its length where it runs along the stalk, but it remains firmly attached lower down the stalk.  It is then free to vibrate, if one holds the stalk below where it remains attached. A hole is cut through the body of the stalk up to, but not through, the lamella. This means that ruwenge must be classified as an idioglot Jew’s harp according to type 121.21 in the Simon/Hornbostel & Sachs classification, with lamella and frame being out of the same piece of material. The ‘rudimentary’ insturments mentioned in Kirby (1936) and Norborg (1987) consist only of lamellae without a frame; thus Kirby’s and Norborg’s findings suggest that ruwenge may have had its origins with the Bushmen.[12]

 

The player holds the body of the instrument to his lips, with the hole towards his mouth (see Fig 4). He can then pluck the lamella, resonate the sound with his mouth, and blow on the lamella to emphasise tones and to create rhythm. He holds the instrument with his fingers over the lamella. By releasing or holding, and by moving his fingers, he is able to allow a longer or shorter length of the lamella to vibrate, and so he can control the basic pitch level. The mouth as resonator amplifies the sound, but the player amplifies the basic tone only, and does not use overtones.

 

 

Fig 4   Drawing based on the photograph of Mr K. Karupu and three views of ruwenge showing the body of the instrument, the vibrating tongue, and the hole cut through the stalk © Dave Dargie

 

 

The aim in playing ruwenge is – as the name suggests – to imitate the sound of drumming. The usual Kavango drumming system comprises three drummers playing three drums, one per player. Skin covers the head of the drum, and the other end is open. The three drums are small, medium and large in size, and therefore relatively high, medium and deep in pitch (see Figs 5 and 6). The drums, played by the hands, are tuned by heating the drum skin at a fire to increase the tension of the skin and raise the pitch, and then if necessary the pitch is lowered by smearing a patch of beeswax on the middle of the drum skin. A patch of beeswax can be seen on the middle drum in Fig 5.

 

 

Fig 5    Kavango Drums at Andara, 1988: Large, medium, and small (L to R). Photograph © Dave Dargie

 

 

 

 

Fig 6    Drawing of Large, medium, and small Kavango Drums © Dave Dargie.  (The drawing shows beeswax in the centre of each drum skin, although in practice wax is applied only if necessary to lower the tone of the drum.)

 

 

It is usually the small drum, with the highest tone, which leads the drumming. The drummer sets a rhythm pattern and then the other two join in, playing patterns that fit into the leader’s pattern: not just imitating but embellishing it and also using additive rhythms (rhythms combining pulses of threes and twos) and cross-rhythms (rhythms that use patterns of twos simultaneously with threes), and so on. It is the task of ruwenge to perform these drumming patterns.

 

The ruwenge player firsts sets the leader’s rhythm pattern, and then builds on the patterns of other drum(s).  Here follow transcriptions of the basic drum patterns in the three items I recorded: one piece performed by the young boy with ngoma zosir’wenge (see Ex 1), and two performed by Mr K. Karupu (see Exs 2 and 3).  (These are not complete transcriptions.  They rather lay out significant elements of the rhythms performed; in the case of Mr Karupu’s performances, in such a way as to enable the rhythms of the different drums [high, middle and low] to be correlated with one another.  In addition, both performer’s used improvisation and mixing of rhythm patterns which I have not attempted to reflect in the transcriptions.  Complete transcriptions of the performances, even short as they were, would take up a great deal of space.)

 

 

Ex 1 From the boy’s performance. The higher (lead drum) part, is pitched higher and has the tails pointing up; the lower (middle range drum) part has the tails down

 

 

The boy’s performance, which lasted 51 seconds, was relatively straightforward.  He used two pitch levels, high and medium: first he played patterns of eight straight beats, eight at the high level and eight at the medium level (bars 1-2). Then he varied the pattern slightly (bars 3-4), the medium level again answering the high level exactly. After a short while he began to use more rapid patterns (as in the lower line of the transcription), the medium level again answering exactly. Then he made some use of very rapid, irregular patterns of beats, but still within the framework of the initial eight beat leader pattern. At times (on the recording) he can be heard puffing through the blow-hole in the instrument, but without much altering the sounds produced.

 

 

Ex 2    Mr Karupu’s First Performance

 

 

 

Ex 3    Mr Karupu’s Second Performance

 

 

In Mr Karupu’s first piece (Example 2), which lasted 1’ 24”, he concentrated almost exclusively on two pitch levels – the high and middle drum patterns. There is only one brief flash – just one note – of a deep tone.  He first clicked his instrument a few times, without holding it to his mouth; then two brief notes resonated by mouth; then into his leader rhythm at a blistering pace. The leader rhythm was rapid triplets, different from the boy’s straight pattern, and like the pattern used very often by leading drummers. When the middle level enters, it at once uses its own rhythm pattern, different from the leader/high level pattern. At once, too, Mr Karupu begins to mix the two patterns, switching back and forth between high level, with its rhythm, and the medium level with its rhythms, at times in a bewildering way, yet always with the clear sense of the leader’s rhythm underlying everything, as with a performance by a set of drums.

 

The medium level rhythm is represented in the second line of the transcription. As can be seen, it makes a cross-rhythm with the leader pattern: 12 beats = 4 x 3 beats (leader) against 12 beats = 6 x 2 beats (medium level). The third line of the transcription shows how the patterns become intermingled: medium level (tails down), leader (tails up), switching not just levels but always with quotations from the correct patterns, and this at flat-out speed. Later the ‘mixing’ flashes from ‘drum’ to ‘drum’ with great exhilaration, but always within the basic pattern. Mr Karupu never for a moment loses touch with the underlying rhythmic flow – a talent essential in a drummer, and perhaps even more so in the ruwenge player who is trying to reflect two or three drums at the same time.  One does not hear him puffing, as with the boy. His blowing amplifies the sound. At times he plays briefly just by blowing, not by plucking the instrument. At the end of both pieces he struck the last note with his hand, and then flung his hand wide while doing a glissando down, blowing to extend the sound.

 

In his second piece (1’ 18”), Mr Karupu imitates all three drums (Ex 3). Each has its own rhythm.  The leader (transcription, first line) again uses rapid triplets. The middle drum pattern (transcription, middle line) uses a 4-vs-3 cross-rhythm. The deep drum uses triplets, but with use of more rapid pulses than does the leader, as shown in the transcription, lowest line. The playing method was similar to that used in Ex 2, although with three drums going Mr Karupu did not use the same amount of bewildering switching and mixing. But with the three drums going the performance is perhaps even more remarkable. On a small instrument made from a bit of sorghum stalk a blind  man played all three drums simultaneously: a masterly performance on an amazing little instrument.[13]

 

Some years before meeting Mr Karupu, in 1982 and also in Sambiu, I encountered another rare rhythm instrument, lipuruboro. Lipuruboro was a large hunting bow strung with animal hide. To convert it to a musical instrument, a grass mat was placed on top of a three-legged iron pot to act as resonator. One man held the bow onto this mat, with a tin mug of grain seeds ready in his other hand, while another drummed on the bow string with two wooden beaters; as the string vibrated the first man applied the mug of seeds to the vibrating string to produce a loud rattling rhythm supplementing the steady beaten rhythm.[14] Lipuruboro is the only musical bow which I have recorded which is not a melody, but a purely rhythm instrument. What was significant about finding it is that it seemed to be related in this respect to ruwenge. Is it possible that ruwenge is the only fully developed Jew’s harp in the world which is only a rhythm instrument imitating drums, with no use of overtones or melody (unlike bows)? Whether it is or not, the playing technique required for a high-level performance with ruwenge is advanced, requiring the same genius for rhythm as that of a master drummer.

 

Looking back long after those often hectic times of field-work, I could easily give way to feelings of contentment at having encountered many people of profound talent, and many works of genius.  But the ethnomusicologist in today’s world must never be content just with that, when so much of the old traditional musical genius is under pressure and dying.  It is a solemn duty to try to ensure that the people who have illuminated the researcher’s life, and their works, should be remembered and honoured now and in the future.

 

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Sachs, Curt. 1913.  Real-Lexikon der Musikinstrumente. Berlin: Julius Bard.

 

________. 1917. Die Maultrommel. Eine typologische Vorstudie. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 49(4-6), 185-200.

 

________. 1940. The history of musical instruments. New York: W.W.Norton.

 

________. 1979(1930). Handbuch der Musikinstrumentenkunde. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf &

Härtel.

 

Sadie, Stanley, ed. 1984).  The new grove dictionary of musical instruments. London;

 

Simon, Peter. 2004. Die Hornbostel-Sachs’sche Systematik der Musikinstrumente:

Merkmalarten und Merkmale. Mönchengladbach: Verlag Simon.

 

 

 

Ankermann, Bernhard. 1976(1901).  Die afrikanischen Musikinstrumente. In

Ethnologisches Notizblatt, ed. by the Direktion des Königlichen Museums für Völkerkunde in Berlin, Vol. 3/1, pp. I-X, 1-132, & Karte I-III, 1901.  Reprinted 1976, Zentralantiquariat der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Leipzig.

 

Collaer, Paul and Jürgen Elsner. 1983. Nordafrika: Musikgeschichte in Bildern, founded

            by Heinrich Besseler & Max Schneider,  ed. W. Bachmann, Vol. 1:

            Musikethnologie, No. 8; with contributions by various authors.  Leipzig, VEB

            Deutscher Verlag für Musik.

 

Gansemans, Jos & Barbara Schmidt-Wrenger. 1986.  Zentralafrika: Musikgeschichte in

Bildern, founded by Heinrich Besseler & Max Schneider, ed. W. Bachmann, Vol.           1: Musikethnologie, No. 9, with contributions by various authors. Leipzig: VEB

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Kubik, Gerhard. 1982. Ostafrika: Musikgeschichte in Bildern, founded by Heinrich

            Besseler & Max Schneider, ed. W. Bachmann, Vol. 1: Musikethnologie, No. 10,

            with contributions by various authors.  Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik.

 

________. 1989.  Westafrika: Musikgeschichte in Bildern, founded by Heinrich Besseler

            & Max Schneider, ed. W. Bachmann, Vol. 1, Musikethnologie, No. 11, with

            contributions by various authors.  Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik.

 

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[1] Publications that came out of this work include Dargie 1981, 1982, 1986a, 1991, and 2003.

[2] Until 1985 this was situated outside the town of Lady Frere, in the eastern Cape. It is now the Lumko Missiological Institute, based in Germiston, in Gauteng province east of Johannesburg.

[3] Trân Quang Hai may be seen and heard on his web site http://tranquanghai. See also the website http://danmoi.de/shop/index.php?main_page=aboutus and www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4_PjKcN2zs.

[4] In 1984 he gave a Jew’s harp presentation using a variety of European and Asian Jew’s harps.

[5] I have a video recording which I made of him demonstrating the European Jew’s harp for me in his office in Paris in 1989, and I also have a video copy obtained from him of a Jew’s harp conference held beside Lake Baikal, at which dozens of people played Jew’s harps, many of them simultaneously in one particular performance.  I have discussed the ruwenge with Hai many times.  In a telephone discussion on 21/8/2008 I mentioned to him the frameless Jew’s harps mentioned by Kirby (1936, 373ff) and Norborg (1987, 73ff).  Hai pointed out that many things can be turned into frameless Jew’s harps, and to illustrate this, played a tune on his credit card, Jew’s harp style, over the telephone.

[6] The instrument is still readily available in Europe, however, and the stationery shop ‘Lilliput’ in Alice, where Fort Hare University is based, for example, is able to order them from overseas.

[7] Recordings of Madosini including isitolotolo performances, are included on the LP The Poet and the Minstrel (Third Ear Recordings, Durban, undated, probably 1970s).  She more recently has been associated with the well-known music group “Amampondo”, and has taught at the College of Music, University of Cape Town.

[8] Recordings of the Ngqoko Group with isitolotolo are on one of the CDs produced by the author (New Sounds from Ngqoko 2005, Dargie Series – see below in this footnote). The Fort Hare Indigenous Orchestra is in process of producing a CD, to be called Masiy’embo that includes use of isitolotolo. The director is Ms Thandile Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela. Reference is frequently made in this article to the ‘Dargie Series’, which includes (to date) thirty-nine audio CDs, a CD ROM with photos, twenty handbooks and nine DVDs. The series is published by the author, with publication soon being taken over by the International Library of African Music (ILAM), Rhodes University, Grahamstown (see http://www.ilam.ru.ac.za).  ILAM has already begun the project of digitalising my field recordings from 1979 to the present, and in time these will be accessible via the internet. The series is aaccessible via ILAM and university libraries in South Africa, Europe, and the USA, or can be purchased from the author at Ostpreussenstr. 81, D-81927 München, Germany, fax no. +49-89-49 16 92.

[9] One of Ms Totoyi’s Jew’s harp whistling songs may be heard on the CD Nguwe lo! in the ‘Dargie Series’.  Umrhubhe mouth-bow whistling songs also appear on other CDs and DVDs of the ‘Dargie Series’, including the CD Magical Musical Bows and the DVDs Xhosa Music introduced by D. Dargie and Performance at the Home of Nofinishi Dywili.

[10] Kavango recordings from my fieldwork in the area, including new church music compositions in traditional style and recordings of traditional music, may be found on the CDs Missa Namibia, New World, Ancient Harmonies, Musical Bows of Namibia and others in the ‘Dargie Series’.

[11] Some are available on the CD Missa Namibia.  It is interesting to compare the drumming in these recordings with the ruwenge performances.

[12] Among the Xhosa, too, I concluded that many interesting instruments and music techniques had their origins among the Bushmen and the Khoi (Dargie 1988, 24 ff,  42 ff).

[13] The boy’s performance is issued on CD II of the ‘Dargie Photo Display’, which consists of a CD ROM with photographs of musicians and instruments, four audio CDs and two guide handbooks. The two performances by Mr Karupu are included on 3 CDs of the series New world, ancient harmonies, Musical bows of Namibia and Drums and dances.

[14] The  CD Musical bows of Namibia has recordings of lipuruboro, with a photograph in the CD insert booklet.  The Dargie Photo Display (ILAM) has a photograph of lipuruboro on the CD ROM, a recording on one of the audio CDs, and a drawing and description of the instrument in the accompanying handbook.

DAVE DARGIE : Description of Ruwenge, an African Jew’s harp constructed with a frame ; ruwenge in Kavango, SOUTH AFRICA


Description of Ruwenge, an African Jew’s harp constructed with a frame.

 

 

Ruwenge in Kavango

 

In 1979, 1981, twice in 1982 and again in 1988, working for Lumko pastoral institute, I conducted series of workshops in Namibia at which people composed new church music in traditional styles. The peoples with whom I worked were Damara, Ovambo, Herero, Lozi (in the Caprivi), and Kavango. The work was rewarding with all these peoples, but the most fruitful area of work was undoubtedly Kavango. At that time the missionaries told me that there were only about 23 000 people living in Kavango, the part of Namibia lying along the Okavango river bordering Angola to the north, and stretching from Ovambo in the west to where the Okavango flows down to Botswana in the east, at the western end of the Caprivi. The main towns are Nkurenkuru in the west (where I did not work), Rundu, the capital of Kavango in the centre, and Andara (a very small town) in the east. Although there were only 23000 inhabitants they had five languages: from the west, Bunya (which some missionaries told me is very similar to if not the same as Kwangali), Kwangali, Sambiu, Gciriku, and Mbukushu. Apart from Bunya and Kwangali (and perhaps Sambiu), there are important differences between the languages. Gciriku has a click consonant, c, pronounced as in Xhosa (and the vaGciriku were the only ‘Bantu’ language people I worked with beside the Xhosa who had a click consonant in their name). Mbukushu has the sibilant consonant th, pronounced as in English. The local peoples also insisted that there were important stylistic differences in the music, even from village to village, although these differences might not be immediately apparent to an outsider. I worked at missions (starting from the west) at Tondoro (1981) and Bunya (1979) (both Bunya or Kwangali people), Rundu (Kwangali people, in1981), Sambiu (about 50 km east of Rundu with Sambiu people, in 1981, 1982 and briefly again in 1988), at Nyangana (Gciriku people) (1979 and 1988) and Andara (Mbukushu) (1979 and 1988).

 

As far as possible I encouraged participants in my church music workshops, while not directly borrowing from traditional songs, to compose in the local musical styles and with the local musical instruments. In Kavango this was generally successful. One of the workshops from which the information that follows particualrly comes, was in Rundu in 1981. In addition to having the services of some excellent drummers, we were fortunate to find people who could play two different types of mouth bow: a plucked bow called rugoma, and the notched friction mouth bow called kaworongongo in ruKwangali, the local Kavango language. All these musicians contributed to the composition work.[1] I also took the opportunity of looking around for other musical instruments, with the assistance of the missionary (Father H. Duttmann, priest in charge at the Catholic mission in Rundu), some of the nuns who worked with him, and two women who played mouth bows, Ms J. Kapande and Ms M. Mpingana.  Some boys sang for us while drumming on wooden tea boxes. One of them then produced a small instrument made from a piece of sorghum stalk. He stepped forward to show it to me – it was clearly a type of self-made Jew’s harp.  A throng of his companions swarmed around enthusiastically. He played the instrument, and I recorded him and photographed him playing (see Fig 2). He called the instrument ngoma zosir’wenge. Interestingly, ngoma in Kavango (as in other languages), means a drum. Ngoma zosir’wenge means, literally, ‘the drum which is ruwenge’, and is a Jew’s harp. While I found the instrument interesting, I was not particularly struck by it at the time. It was a few years before I realised either the rarity or the amazing potential of the instrument.

 

 

 

Fig 2 Boy Playing Ngoma zosir’wenge, Rundu, 1981. Photograph © Dave Dargie

 

 

In 1988 I was again on a church music workshop tour in Namibia. This time Andrew Tracey, my earlier mentor, came with me, for our second joint trip to Namibia (the first being in 1982). Having heard about the music I found on my earlier trips in 1979 and 1981, he was keen to experience the music for himself; and he was of course of great help to me, especially with locating musicians. For example, while I was tied down working with the church musicians he would often take the chance to wander around, keeping eyes and ears open. At the end of this tour, after we had worked at the eastern end of Kavango at Andara, and further afield at Katima in the Caprivi, we were returning westwards. It had been a very pleasant trip, but quite tense. We were driven around by Father Bernhard Wolf, a priest from Windhoek, and had spent plenty of the time in laughter and conviviality. However, on the way from Nyangana to Andara the car broke a CV joint.  ‘Wolfie’ and I had to be carried in the broken-down car to Andara on the back of a huge lorry. It took ages to get the problem sorted out. In the end, a new CV joint had to be flown to Katima in Caprivi for us, and Father Alois Kapp, the missionary at Andara, fetched it from Katima and repaired the car himself. In addition, the drive band had broken on my Uher reel-to-reel tape recorder. I had a packet of ordinary rubber bands and managed to make the machine work by winding a rubber band over the drive parts. Each lasted for only a few recordings, but I kept going until we reached Katima, when I was able to get some authentic Uher drive bands flown in from Johannesburg (also collected by Father Kapp). To my delight, I found out later that all the recordings had come out excellently.  Everything worked out fine in the end, but we were much delayed.

 

On the way back from Caprivi we called in for a meal at the mission at Sambiu (in the local language ruSambiu), some 50 km east of Rundu, where I had had the workshop years earlier. Sambiu was always an interesting place to work, but now we had no spare time. However, the people there were just in the process of rehearsing some of their own compositions for performance in church over the coming week-end. There were hundreds singing in the church, so I ran for my tape recorder and got some excellent recordings.[2]  While this was happening, Andrew took the chance of having a look around the village. When I had finished recording I found Andrew waiting in the priest’s house with an elderly blind man.  He was Mr K. Karupu, and Andrew had found him playing a Jew’s Harp of the same type as I had encountered in Rundu in 1981. He called it simply ruwenge, and what he could do with it was remarkable (see Fig 3).

 

 

Fig 3   Mr K. Karupu playing Ruwenge, Sambiu, 1988. Photograph © Dave Dargie

 

 

Ruwenge as Mr Karapu played it is made by cutting a piece from a stalk of sorghum (called mahangu in Kavango) of about 10 to 12 cm long. The outside of the stalk dries very hard, but the inside, being pith, remains soft. The piece of stalk is cut so as to leave a tongue or lamella of hard outer stalk projecting beyond the body of the instrument, and the lamella is extended along the body of the instrument by careful cutting (see Fig 4). The lamella is therefore free for part of its length where it runs along the stalk, but it remains firmly attached lower down the stalk.  It is then free to vibrate, if one holds the stalk below where it remains attached. A hole is cut through the body of the stalk up to, but not through, the lamella. This means that ruwenge must be classified as an idioglot Jew’s harp according to type 121.21 in the Simon/Hornbostel & Sachs classification, with lamella and frame being out of the same piece of material. The ‘rudimentary’ insturments mentioned in Kirby (1936) and Norborg (1987) consist only of lamellae without a frame; thus Kirby’s and Norborg’s findings suggest that ruwenge may have had its origins with the Bushmen.[3]

 

The player holds the body of the instrument to his lips, with the hole towards his mouth (see Fig 4). He can then pluck the lamella, resonate the sound with his mouth, and blow on the lamella to emphasise tones and to create rhythm. He holds the instrument with his fingers over the lamella. By releasing or holding, and by moving his fingers, he is able to allow a longer or shorter length of the lamella to vibrate, and so he can control the basic pitch level. The mouth as resonator amplifies the sound, but the player amplifies the basic tone only, and does not use overtones.

 

 

Fig 4   Drawing based on the photograph of Mr K. Karupu and three views of ruwenge showing the body of the instrument, the vibrating tongue, and the hole cut through the stalk © Dave Dargie

 

 

 

[1] Kavango recordings from my fieldwork in the area, including new church music compositions in traditional style and recordings of traditional music, may be found on the CDs Missa Namibia, New World, Ancient Harmonies, Musical Bows of Namibia and others in the ‘Dargie Series’.

[2] Some are available on the CD Missa Namibia.  It is interesting to compare the drumming in these recordings with the ruwenge performances.

[3] Among the Xhosa, too, I concluded that many interesting instruments and music techniques had their origins among the Bushmen and the Khoi (Dargie 1988, 24 ff,  42 ff).