This saturday we visited a village chief in the Kasungu region of the country, hoping to learn more about traditional instruments.
After a 3 hour drive the roads were quickly narrowing in, and asphalt soon seemed like an implausible concept from a sci-fi novel. We drove/jumped down the bumpy dirt roads, as our open water bottles mysteriously emptied themselves in the bus roof and our faces. Our presence was even more noticed here in the rural parts of the country, and both children and dogs were chasing our minibus in pure excitement. When we arrived in the small village, which mostly consisted of a dozen straw huts, we were greeted by the chief himself. He was wearing a nice blue shirt, and stood patiently waiting with folded hands and a gentle wise smile. His three wives stood smiling beside him, awaiting their turn to greet us. After a brief welcoming ceremony and a big serving of traditional homebrewed maize beer, it was time to see the instruments.
The chief led us out of his home and towards a hut at the outskirts of the village. We were as always accompanied by a flock of children. We sat down in a small straw hut filled with tools, pieces of wood, goatskin, and a pile of both finished and unfinished instruments. Our boss Matthews told us that this was the traditional Kaligo we were here for.
He started showing us the different steps of the long process required to make the simple yet beautiful traditional instrument. Carving out a small drum in wood, fitting it with goat skin, leaving the string to dry in the sun, etc. He passionately explained everything along the way in an indigenous language we didn’t speak a word of, and we all nodded and smiled while trying to wrap our head around what he was doing. I made a quick sketch in my book trying to capture the essence of it.
After a brief run-through of the making of the Kaligo, we headed to another hut. It was time to get an introduction to playing it. A myriad of kids gathered around as the old man took a couple of Kaligo’s and handed them out to us. We tried get some sounds out of the instrument, but with little success. The string just wouldn’t vibrate. The chief then took the small stick acting as a bow and dipped it water. With just a few drops the difference was remarkable. The tones were now smooth and loud. Just as we thought we were getting the hang of it he picked one up himself, and started playing us some amazing traditional songs with such ease that he could have been sleeping. We were amazed to say the least.