Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I took these pictures of an itinerant blind musician while a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo, West Africa. He was playing and singing across the street from my house in the town of Sansanné-Mango. Banjo scholar Shlomo Pestcoe has identified the musician's instrument as the "lawa". In an email to me, he writes that the lawa is a "gourd-bodied 2-string plucked spike lute of the Tem people. It has a semi-spike neck -- that is, the neck extends about 3/4 the length of the body stopping a little ways short of the body's tail-end. The lutenist is playing with a plectrum, probably a traditional one made of stiffened cowhide." In addition he is using a stick to stop the strings. In the audio portion of this clip I am playing the "Early Black Banjo Piece" as transcribed by Frank Converse, and which in no way tries to replicate what the Togolese musician was playing...

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Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on October 9, 2012 at 11:21pm
How amazing would it be to be able to see and hear the first incarnation of this instrument here in America. No such luck without a time machine, on to reality. There are glimpses of the very music we are playing from these tutors that can be heard in that very syncopated rhythm that accompanies that video. Or at least I think I am hearing that.
Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on October 9, 2012 at 11:25pm

OOPS! I didn't read the comment under the video. No wonder that had such a familiar feel.

Well done Nick! Dough!

Comment by Paul Draper on October 10, 2012 at 7:36am

Nick, unfortunately I had no way to record this guy when I heard him.  I was just lucky enough to get the photos...

Comment by Strumelia on October 10, 2012 at 9:02am

Paul even though you clarify at the end of your ytube comments, it's still a bit confusing (I too was confused, like Nicholas) and it just naturally seems like the audio is of the musician pictured.  Maybe you could change the video title to "Photos of Itinerant Togolese Musician"...just a thought.

I love this video, by the way!- pictures, audio, and all.  :)

Comment by Paul Draper on October 10, 2012 at 10:18am

Strumelia, Thanks. Glad you liked it. The first sentence of the description states that I took these pictures;  at the end of the clip I state: "Photos and Gourd Banjo" by me; and at the end of the description I say that what I'm playing in the clip "in no way tries to replicate what the Togolese musician was playing".  Sorry for the confusion. 

Comment by Strumelia on October 10, 2012 at 10:23am

When you stated "Photos and Gourd Banjo" by me"....at first I thought you meant you had made the gourd banjo shown in the photos.

Comment by Paul Draper on October 10, 2012 at 10:31am

Oops.  Sorry.  It's not a gourd banjo in the photos.

Comment by Nicholas A Bechtel on October 10, 2012 at 10:43am

Now I am interested in hearing this music to see where the similarities might lie.

Comment by Strumelia on October 10, 2012 at 11:00am

Nicholas, you can get a start by searching 'akonting' on youtube....not exactly the same instrument, but you'll get a hint to get you going.   

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