NgoniThe Ngoni is a plucked lute, which has been a bardic instrument among West African Griots for several centuries. It may be found, mostly in the sahel and northern parts of the savanna from all over West Africa and down as far as Cameroon. Although the name Ngoni is the one used here, it has many different names, depending on what region you find yourself in. In areas of Guinea you will hear it referred to as a Koni; in parts of The Gambia it is often referred to as a Kontingo and in Mali it is known as an Ngoni. Added to the mix of names are the different cultures that also possess similar instruments. The Wolof have the Xalam; the Peuhl have the Hoddu and in Morocco there is an instrument of similar structure called a Tidinit.

The Ngoni, or Koni, is mostly associated with traditions of oral history. Among the people of Mande (Maninka, Bamana, Dyula, Malinke, etc.) the Ngoni is a sacred and precious instrument, symbolic of their long history and ancient traditions. Many of the songs performed on the Ngoni relate to specific historical events or characters. There are epic poems, which take, literally, days to recite and belong to the repertoire of West Africa’s Griot cultures.

There is some debate among academicians as to the origin of the West Africa’s plucked lutes and whether they originated in Ancient Egypt or whether they were an import into the ancient empires of Egypt.

A typical Ngoni has a small, round fretless neck that sits in an indented portion of the body (boat shaped and made of wood). Most of the body is covered with animal hide. The strings of the Ngoni are attached at one end of the neck by small strips of hide, which act as tuning laces. These strings traverse the body of the instrument, crossing a small bridge and tiny sound hole before ending up re-attached to the opposite end of the neck, which juts out ever so slightly.

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