Frafra Koloko: The rhythmic heartbeat of the Frafra people

Frafra Koloko

Stories and facts

The kologo, a two-stringed lute, is a key instrument in the musical traditions of the Frafra people in Northern Ghana and Southern Burkina Faso. Made from a calabash gourd resonator covered with hairless animal skin ("ganέ"), it features a wooden neck ("dogɔ") and a bridge ("afi-adɔ") where two nylon strings are attached. Traditionally, these strings were made from cow veins, a practice still upheld by kologo musician Guy One.

Modern kologos incorporate tuning pegs, "talziga," although the traditional versions lacked these. An additional feature is the nail extending from the top of the neck, adorned with crushed bottle caps or scrap metals, "nashashέ," which create a rattling sound when played. The instrument is typically secured with a strap, "yugi-ergo," allowing the player mobility, and strummed with a pick made from thick plastic, though historically, dried cow skin was used.

Kologo players adhere to a tradition of originality, only performing their own compositions and avoiding songs by others. This instrument is deeply rooted in the Frafra community, symbolizing personal expression and cultural heritage.

The kologo is part of a family of similar instruments across West Africa, each with unique variations and names. Notable relatives include the molo from Nigeria and the xalam (or khalam) from the Wolof people. Other names for similar instruments include bappe, diassare, hoddu, komsa, komo, kongtigi, koni, konting, ndere, ngoni, and tidinit. Variations can be found in the number of strings, ranging from one to five, and the shape of the body, which can be round or oval calabashes or even wooden.

Music historians believe the American banjo is a descendant of these West African lutes. John Collins notes that early Senegalese slaves brought the instrument to the Caribbean in the 17th century, where it evolved into the "banjar" and later the American banjo. President Thomas Jefferson also documented the banjo's African origins in his "Notes on Virginia."

The kologo's tuning involves a bass string and a treble string, with the treble string tuned a fourth higher than the bass. The exact pitch depends on the singer's vocal range, allowing for flexible tuning to match individual preferences. This contrasts with the more rigid tuning systems of some related instruments.

The kologo, while specific to the Frafra, shares a rich and diverse heritage with its West African counterparts. Its deep cultural significance and historical connections highlight its importance in the region's musical scene.



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