The handcrafted Ṣẹ̀kẹ̀rẹ̀ (Pronounced Shekere) is a popular musical instrument in West Africa. It is made up of a hollow dried gourd or calabash that has been coated with a net of seeds, beads, or shells on the outside. Despite being a West African native, the word “Shekere” also appears in song and culture from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Ground-grown vine gourds are used to make the Shekere. The gourd’s form largely affects how the instrument sounds. After the gourd has been dried for several months, the pulp and seeds are removed to create a shekere. Skillful beading and colors are then applied once it has been cleansed. In the course of musical performances, “kr” is shook or palm-struck.
Historically, the calabash or gourd used for “Ṣẹ̀kẹ̀rẹ̀” had a variety of uses in Nigeria and other parts of the world. It has been used to store water and is still a necessary tool in some rural areas of Nigeria and other countries. They can also serve as resonators for musical instruments or as birdhouses.
Shekere has a religious connotation for the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria. It is treated with great respect and is essential to some traditional musical forms. Traditional owners and players of the large beaded Shekere known as “agbe” are only professional musicians like; Olatunji, Music in African Life. It is a personal instrument that is never shared, even with family members. However, a son who is a professional musician may inherit his father’s agbe.
Throughout West Africa you will also find a smaller gourd, covered with a woven net that is tied off at the bottom, leaving a tail of loose strings. In Ghana and Togo among the Ewe language group, it is known as the “axatse” and is often used to accompany a drum or bell orchestra on important occasions. In Sierra Leone, a similar type of Shekere is found with a very loose net and long tail often called a “shake-shake” or “shaburay”.
When Africans were first transported to the “New World,” they brought many of these diverse musical instruments with them, which later became ingrained in some regions of America and the Caribbean. Yoruba religious practices that support the usage of drums and Shekeres are virtually unaltered in Cuba; they share rhythmic patterns, instrument names, and chants that go along with them. Brazilians occasionally employ the “afuxe,” a beaded coconut with seeds that resembles the Ghanaian “axatse” in both name and design. The shekere and other instruments of an African ancestry have gained popularity in the US and are quickly assimilating into our current musical expression.