My Journey to Playing Indigenous African Instruments

My Journey to Playing Indigenous African Instruments

Category : Creators

By Sibahle ‘Sky’ Dladla

I was born and raised in the township of Gugulethu, Cape Town, South Africa. I am an African instrumentalist, a percussionist, marimba maker, a songwriter, singer, bow instrument maker and performer. I would like to tell you about the instruments I play and where they are from.


The first African instrument I played was the Marimba Xylophone which I learned in high school. The marimba in South African is traced to arriving with some Catholic Churches who brought them from Zimbabwe. The origins of the Marimba are still not completely known. In SA, Marimbas are played in bands/ ensembles and in Cape Town alone, there are over 100 Marimba bands.


I then went on to learn to play the Uhadi bow, a traditional Xhosa musical instrument from the Eastern Cape, South Africa. It is an unbraced musical bow which is attached to a calabash that serves as a resonator and played using a thin 30-40cm meter stick to strike it. It was often played by Xhosa women at traditional ceremonies.

Mbira dza Vadzimu

The Mbira dza Vadzimu which translates to “Mbira of the Ancestors” from the Zezuru Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is closely associated with traditional spirit possession ceremonies. It has 2 rows of metal strips, made by flattened nails, each tuned individually and attached to an open-ended wooden block that acts as a resonator. This is my favorite and most challenging indigenous instrument so far.

Nyunga Nyunga

Similar to the Mbira instrument, I play the Nyunga Nyunga from the Nyungwe people of Mozambique. It is built similar to the Mbira but with only 17 keys and has a much smaller frame.


One of the percussive instruments that I play is the Kayamba from the Mascarene Islands, which is a flat shaker made into a rectangle with reeds and filled in with seeds. When played it makes ocean and rain sounds.


 I visited Mozambique a few years agoand was taught the Chitende and Timbila by a maestro percussionist Matchume Zango.

The Chitende is a braced bow with a calabash resonator as well. It is played by striking the string with a small stick whilst placing the calabash on and off your chest. I also went on to learn to play the Timbila, which is a Mozambican xylophone played with a lot of speed and agility. It is one of the loudest xylophones in Africa with 18 to 24 keys.

My dream and goal is to learn ALL of the indigenous instruments from Africa and to preserve them for generations to come.