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nyanyeru

chordophone

The single-string spike bowl fiddle is widely dispersed in western Africa. The most common type is the goge-type, with a body consisting of a hemispherical section of a gourd, which is covered with animal skin. The round sound hole is cut into the skin. This fiddle type can be found under various names in West Africa, depending on the producing culture: goge among the Hausa and Yoruba culture in Nigeria and Niger, gondze or gonje among the Dagbamba in Ghana, njarka among the Songhay in Mali and ruudga among the Mossi in Burkina Faso.

The nyanyeru is a single-string spike bowl fiddle as well, but differs from the goge-type in that its sound hole is not located in the skin but in the resonator. This fiddle is made and played by the Fulani people.

The Fulani live throughout West Africa, from Senegal to Chad, and in the northern parts of Central Africa. Many of them are nomadic pastoralists, moving around frequently, but they are all bound by the Fulfulde language and by pulaaku, a commonly accepted code of conduct. The fiddle plays an important role in Fulani culture. Together with the flute and the plucked three-stringed lute it forms the foundation of Fulani music. The nyanyeru is used in a variety of contexts: at weddings and other ceremonies, during festivals, in markets and at people's homes as entertainment. Sometimes the music is purely instrumental, but often the musician accompanies himself on the fiddle while singing. Song topics may include everyday occurrences, social relations, historical events, or praise songs for an important person.

The nyanyeru is also known under the Wolof-name riti, and is sometimes called woguerou by the Fulani in Burkina Faso.

The resonator of the nyanyeru is usually made of half a gourd, which is covered with goat or reptile skin. A wooden neck is inserted through the resonator, terminating in a spike at the base. The only string is made of horsehair and runs from the spike at the base, over a small V-shaped wooden bridge placed on the skin, to the upper part of the neck where it is tied with rope. The sound hole, which is often square, is situated in the resonator. The instrument is played with a small convex bow, which is frequently covered with leather. Small pieces of rosin for the bow may be kept inside the resonator of the fiddle.

The nyanyeru may be elaborately decorated with for example strips of coloured cloth, or, like the instrument of the mim, with cowrie shells attached to the resonator with sand and glue, and metal studs.

The instrument shown here is made especially for the mim by Karim Dembele, a fiddle maker and player in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. Born in 1991 and raised in a musical family, he learnt the craft of fiddle making from his father since he was fourteen. In November 2013 we meet him at his compound in Secteur 19, on the outskirts of the city, not far from the airport. In the video below he demonstrates the nyanyeru he has just built for us, amidst playing children, women doing the laundry and family members  chatting and milling about.

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Karim Dembele (foto Carolien Hulshof)
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