Shekere is an instrument that I love to play. It is a beaded calabash, and in this case I use the word shekere as a generic name for the beaded calabash, as it has become known by this name throughout the US and other countries. And although there are many styles of shekere, and many different names for beaded calabash, it is part of an even larger family of rattle instruments of Africa. Shekere is, in some traditions, a combination drum/rattle. The empty calabash about which a net of beads is placed, can sound a tone when struck, while the beads moving about will give the rattle sound. This kind of drum/rattle sound is true to several shekere styles, one being the Agbe of Nigeria. There are several shekere styles however, that just incorporate the rattle sound alone. The playing technique of the Agbe has merged with other traditional playing styles and has been embellished upon, especially in Cuba, where it is used quite often in Afro-cuban percussion music. My studies in shekere branch from this very tree. My teacher was Chief Bey, who spent years in Nigeria, Brazil and Cuba and was a widely recognized master of drum and shekere.
I became fascinated with shekere when I saw the Women of the Calabash perform in 1982. I immediately began studying with Madeliene Yayodele Nelson and became friends of the whole group, a friendship that has endured. Later I worked intensively with Chief Bey as well many masterful shekere players, eventually moving in to the realm of the shekere specialists and masters, all of whom embraced me as their young “keeper of the tradition”. I taught shekere for several years, starting several shekere players on the path.
I developed a new “chapter” to the technique of shekere in that I, by necessity, had to learn to play very fast and driving rhythms. In order to do this I had to develop a circular technique that incorporated relaxation and breathing. As my shekere playing grew, I became free on the instrument and was able to teach my students also how to be free with their shekere playing while expressing very demanding rhythms with clarity. I recall one of my long time students reaching that “ah ha” moment in the class one day in which he stopped playing and just sat down and laughed for a long time. He has continued on to play shekere for various groups.
Shekere playing is something that I love to do. Sometimes to me, it’s like riding on a roller coaster. I feel like I’m moving the wind.
I am available for shekere workshops, playing or building the instrument. Please email or call…
Mbira playing and mbira music called me in 1982. I first met Ephat Mujuru when I was in my senior year in college and from then on events in my life have led me mysteriously towards playing this instrument. My teachers and my past (deeply rooted in the African experience in America) have shaped me to be a different voice in the mbira music world. As an mbira player, I stand on a bridge between several worlds.
I play several styles, but I focus on a style known as karimba. I also play a style developed by the late mbira master Zeleka Jenkins. My mbira techniuque is a combination of Zimbabwean/Congo mbira styles along with diasporal influences.