Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

How to Make a Shekere (a traditional West African instrument)

After learning more about West African traditional instruments, I thought it would be fun to make and play a shekere. We have a basket of instruments that I've been collecting since Pea was a toddler - none of which we've mastered, but a good fun ruckus has been made plenty of times over the years. Now in their teens, the girls aren't as keen anymore - though I very much still am - but luckily I have a few young nieces and nephews to be continuing the fun with for years to come. And whether or not my teens will be joining us, I'll be shake-shake-shaking our homemade shekere.  

Shekeres - gourd rattles
Photo credit: North Charleston (CC)

The shekere (pronounced SHAY-kuh-ray) originates from West Africa and is now used in the Americas and Caribbean as well. It's a handmade rattle made from hollowed out, and dried up gourds and covered on the outside with a netting of beads, seeds and shells. It goes by different names and comes in many shapes and sizes - the size and shape determines the sound and volume of the instrument. It's traditionally played as an accompaniment to drumming and dance. It's played by shaking it or slapping it against the hands. 

You can hear how great the shekere sounds being played here

Although it's a bit time consuming, making this is fairly simple once you know how. If your kids can use a rainbow loom, they can make one of these :) To cut back on how long it takes, don't paint it, and use a smaller bottle (which will use a smaller amount of beads).

To make your own shekere, all you really need is:
  • a plastic bottle (with a narrow neck to "resemble" a gourd), 
  • beads (lots of them)
  • cord, yarn, thick crochet thread, twine, etc - just make sure it's sturdy, it fits through the beads, and the end doesn't unravel every time you string it through a bead (because that gets quite frustrating, and there are a lot of beads to string)
  • acrylic paint or permanent markers - optional, to decorate your bottle.  
I used a two liter bottle, and 112 beads. You could use more or a less beads, depending on the pattern you want to make, how many strands you want to include and how big or small your bottle is. 

1. First, decorate your bottle if you are so inclined. I painted mine with yellow acrylic paint - but be warned, it took 3 coats to get a decent coverage. Though you can't see it in the photo above, I then went a little crazy and drew designs over the yellow with sharpies. Now that the beads are on though, I wish I had stuck to just a few designs on the neck of the bottle, not where the beads are. 

2. Cut your cord into 8 pieces: 1 into a length of 56", and 7 into lengths of 50". 
With the 56" cord, wrap it around a narrow part of the top of your bottle (as above) and tie a knot so that it's a little slack (you want the beads to be able to move over the bottle).

3. Then take the 7 pieces of cord, fold them in half and attach them spaced evenly around the bottle. To attach them, tie them with a larks head knot (see three photos above left or this video) You should have eight sections of cord around your bottle.

4. Now it's time to attach the beads. String a bead up the right half of one cord section, and string a bead up the left half of the next cord section - knot the two beaded cords together (top, left pic). Continue doing this all around the bottle. This is your first row, with 16 beads (top, right pic). Repeat this step one row after another until you get close to the bottom of the bottom - I stopped at about 1 1/2" from the bottom.

 - I just did one bead per string at a time, but you could do more than that - especially if your beads are smaller. In my bottom row (see below, left) I strung up two beads per string.

5. Once you have all the beads strung up and knotted, just gather all the cord together and tie them into a knot, giving some slack - again, this way the beads will move and make music!

Shake, shake, shake your shekere!

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  1. This is really, really good Marie! I mean, it looks like a real one it's so good! Well done again for an amazing tutorial!

  2. Wow, that is so impressive. I want to make all the things you do.

    1. Thanks Phyllis :) But it's really not that hard.

  3. It looks great! I'm just imagining all the time it took to make it.

    1. Thanks Ticia, it was a bit time consuming, but in a relaxing sort of way - kind of like knitting, but so much easier because you're just stringing beads! It would definitely take less time with a smaller bottle.


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