Making African Traditional Musical Instruments at Sihlalo Wood Workshop

We started making traditional African musical instruments and teaching children how to play them about three years ago. Our aim is to preserve and promote our heritage, and keep alive generational knowledge about traditional African music and instruments.  It is essential that we identify, educate and uplift future African instrument makers and players. We believe that we can create opportunities for future generations of young Africans by sharing the knowledge and skills of African music art  not only locally, but in Africa and beyond.

In the first days of our venture, we used poorer sound quality wood (such as garapa), to make marimba keys.  We were able to buy this wood relatively cheaply, and we could also salvage it from discard piles of local timber companies. These instruments were of good enough sound quality for the children to start learning as beginners. However, as the children’s skill has grown and we have received more donations, we have been able to make better acoustic quality instruments using keys made from kiaat or padauk.

To make our mbiras (African pianos), we still go to trash or scrap yards to buy recycled materials such as steel to hand-forge the keys.

We have also started making African harps.  We are still experimenting with size, number of strings, and construction. We buy skins from local traders, wood from discard piles of timber merchants or purchased directly, and twine for the strings, purchased from a local twine company. We use natural calabashes but we can also substitute these with fibre glass resonators that we make at the Shilalo wood workshop.

We have started making a type of drum, known as ngoma in Southern Africa. We also repair djembe drums.