The African rhythms and derivatives that persisted at the gatherings in Congo Square called for musical instruments modeled after the ones the musicians played in their homelands. The main instruments were the drums, most of which were membranophones as stretched animal skin or membrane vibrates to produce the sound. Musicians also played log drums or catá, which did not have membranes.

Instruments including rattles, mule’s jaw bone, cowbells, mbira, balaphone were classified as idiophones. The banza (also banja, bania), the forerunner of the banjo, is an example of the chordophones that gatherers played in Congo Square. Strings stretched between fixed points produced the sound for those instruments.

Aerophones, generally called wind instruments, were also played there. Those included panpipes and flutes made out of bamboo and animal horns. Over time, particularly after the rise of the domestic slave trade, gatherers introduced instruments of European origin such as the violin (also cremona, fiddle), tambourine, and Jew’s harp (also jaw harp, mouth harp).

Eye-witness accounts and other primary and secondary sources provide information about the instruments. An outstanding source is Benjamin Labtrobe’s sketches of the musical instruments that he saw at a Sunday gathering in 1819.

More Information

Links and suggested readings for Louisiana music, films and filmmakers.,250

Roots Institute
A bibliography of sources related to African Diaspora Music and Expressive Culture (i.e., The African Background of American Culture through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade). Compiled by Michael Stone, Department of Anthropology, Hartwick College. Recommended for studying jazz history.

Haitian Djouba Dancing
This clip is from a field recording done by the American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax during his trip to Haiti in 1936-1937 Haitian Djouba Dancing

How to Play the Son Clave
Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South

Cutumba Performing Son
Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South

Leyla McCalla: Talking Banjos, Haiti and the American Cover-Up
Afropop Worldwide

African and Afro-American Drums
African and Afro-American Drums is an examination of African drumming and its influence on the music of the Americas. Representing eight countries in the American continents, Harold Courlander has compiled an anthology of drum music from three continents and explores its various uses as well as chronicles the evolution of drum music. Extensive liner notes accompany this album and include a transcription of Haitian Juba Dance drums by George Herzog.

African Musical Instruments, by Bilal Abdurahman
This 1980 release introduces classrooms to the instruments, rhythms, and sounds of Africa. With the zummarra (double-reed oboe), darabuka (hand drum), and masanka (one-string viol), listeners will get a feel for the music from three different regions of the African continent: the Islamic-influenced north, West Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. The liner notes include a detailed sample lesson plan and suggested activities to further engage students with the music.

African Rhythms and Instruments, Vol.1 (Maliniger/Ghana/Nigeria) (Various Artists)
New York: Lyrichord, 1993.

Afro–Cuban Drum Music from Smithsonian Folkways
When Africans were taken to the Americas in the slave trade, they brought with them a wealth of musical traditions-particularly dense, complex, and polyrhythmic drum music-that were central to their daily lives. African drum music is anchored by a repeating pattern played by bells and/or rattles, while drums play designated call-and-response patterns. Call and response also occurs in vocal music; the leader sings and a chorus responds. These traditions carried over to Afro-Cuban music, particularly in sacred musical styles as Santería, which feature double-sided batá drums and rhythmic patterns for different deities. Afro-Cuban drum styles, including bembé, rumba, palo, and batá.–cuban-drum-music-from-smithsonian-folkways

Footnotes to Jazz, Vol. 1: Baby Dodds Talking and Drum Solos
Jazz drummer Baby Dodds as he demonstrates and discusses elements of his solos making it entertaining as well as educational.

Music of Haiti: Vol. 2, Drums of Haiti (Various Artists)
From the work of folklorist, ethnographer and ethnomusicologist Harold Courlander, who recorded drummers playing the manman, moyen, and bébé drums of vodoun.

The Black History of the Banjo, produced by Ben Richmond
Afropop Worldwide

Chernoff, John Miller. African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981.

Courlander, Harold. Negro Folk Music, United States of America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1963.

Courlander, Harold. “Musical Instruments of Haiti.” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 3 (1941): 371-383.

____. “Musical Instruments of Cuba.” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (1942): 227- 240.

Kmen, Henry A. “The Roots of Jazz and the Dance in Place Congo: A Re-Appraisal.”
Inter-American Musical Research Yearbook, Vol. VIII. (1972): 5-17.

Maultsby, Portia K. “Africanisms in African-American Music.” In Africanisms in American Culture, ed. Joseph E. Holloway, pp.185-210. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Nketia, J.H. Kwabena. The Music of Africa. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1974.

___. “Drums, Dance, and Song.” Atlantic Monthly. CCIII (April, 1959), 69-72.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans. New York: Norton & Company, 1971.