The ruudga is a single-stringed fiddle played by the Mossi people in Burkina Faso. The Mossi people are the largest ethnic group in the country, constituting more than 50 % of the population. They live in the center of Burkina Faso, on a plateau which covers a large part of the country. The landscape on this plateau is mainly savannah, with grassland plains and a few isolated hills.
The Mossi Empire was established around the eleventh century, and its organization into a central kingdom and several smaller principalities, each with their own ruler and royal court, stratified according to royal, noble and commoner patrilineages, still exists today.

The ruudga is a spike bowl fiddle, a fiddle type widely distributed throughout Western Africa.  Other examples include the Hausa goge, the Dagbamba gondze and the Fulbe nyanyeru. As with most West African spike bowl fiddles, the resonator of a ruudga consists of a hemispherical section of gourd, the open face of the gourd being covered with animal skin.  Traditionally, the resonator of a ruudga was covered with monitor lizard skin, but many instrument makers have now switched to goat skin, which is more readily available. When the soundboard consists of goat skin it is stretched onto the gourd by sewing it onto a leather cord or twig encircling the resonator, which is then fastened with white cotton rope. When reptile skin is used, this is pulled tight over the resonator, a leather strip is glued around the entire circumference, and then nails are added for extra security.
A wooden neck is inserted through the resonator, terminating in a spike at the base. The single string is made of multiple strands of horse hair and runs from the spike at the base over the bridge to the upper part of the neck where it is tied with rope. The bridge is small and has an inverted V-shape, typically consisting of a naturally bifurcating piece of wood. The bridge is placed on the skin on its two ‘feet’ near the top edge of the instrument, held in place by the tension of the string. The single sound hole is round and cut into the skin, often on the left side.

Traditionally, the ruudga is tuned either by tightening the string with the rope that attaches it to the top of the neck, or by a small triangular piece of wood or bone, inserted at the base of the resonator, between the string and the resonator. Pushing the triangle further in towards its broader end causes more tension on the string and thus a higher note, while releasing it lowers the tone. In our instrument of the month however, a modernization has been carried out by maker and player Nouss Nabil. To facilitate tuning, he developed a metal tuning device which is inserted through the top of the neck. The string is fastened to the protruding tip of the device, and can be tightened or loosened with the flat top of the peg on the other side, much like a guitar tuning system.
Traditionally, the ruudga is an instrument associated with blind people. They play it in various locations and on different occasions. Firstly, they are able to make some money by performing in markets and cabarets (local cafes where millet beer is served), playing the ruudga and singing topical or social comment songs. These songs may be based on folk tales, proverbs or current events. The text of these songs is often improvised, enabling the performer to adapt the content to the occasion. For example, when performing in a market the musician may incorporate the latest news, adding his own personal view on it, or he may welcome visitors who have just arrived from another town or village.
Secondly, fiddle players may be invited to the royal court to sing praise songs. This practice exists at every level of the Mossi kingdom, from the central royal court to the smaller courts in the districts and communities. The fiddle has played an important role at the Mossi royal palace since the establishment of the Mossi Empire, being essential to several ceremonies and rituals.

Thus, ruudga players occupy an ambivalent position in Mossi society. They often belong to the socio-economic fringe of society, relying on gifts from the audience when performing in local beer houses. At the same time they are highly valued because of their performances at the royal court. Playing for the king not only provides them with a stable income, it also enhance their social status.

Our instrument of the month (inv. 2013.076) was made and donated by Nouss Nabil from Bobo-Dioulasso.

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