4 Main Igbo Traditional Musical Instruments at a Glance


Igbo traditional musical instruments are used primarily by masquerade, dance, and musical groups in special human activities like; rituals, spiritual and cultural events as well as births of new born and funerals.

The Igbo musical instruments we’ll highlight in this post are used to make the following impact in the day-to-day lives of our people – the Igbos:

  • They enhance celebrations, such as during the New Year, weddings, birthday parties, childbirth and naming ceremonies.
  • They bring about a historically sacred ambience at funerals, and eulogies.
  • They are played for pleasure, such as when lullabies are sung by parents to their children.
  • They are also used to guide historians as they recount stories

A quick glance at our traditional musical instruments is as follows:

  1. Drums:
    The drum is the most important musical instrument for us – Igbos. This instrument is extensively used during celebrations, rites of passage, funerals, war, town meetings and an array of other events. Since this instrument is so diverse, many types of drums have been crafted and perfected over the years. The main kinds of drum used in present day Igboland are Udu and Igba

    The Udu (Pottery-drum) is a sphere shape made of clay, with a hollow inside and a small round open mouth. The primary function of Udu is to produce musical bass. The artist accomplishes this by taping the open mouth with a round and flat object. The Udu is also used as a safe, and is the first storage container used by us – the Igbos to store water, palm oil, or to preserve produce. Due to its fragile nature, other sturdier containers like plastics had replaced it as a storage facility. It continues to serve as the best source for musical bass.

    The Igba (Cylinder-drum) is a piece of hollow wood covered at one end with animal hide held down tight with fasteners. The artist carries it over his shoulder with the help of a shoulder strap. The artist produces the sound by beating on the animal hide with his fingers or combination of one set of fingers and a special stick. The cylinder-drum accompanies dances, songs, religious and secular ceremonies, and its tunes have been known to gave special signals for good news as well as bad news.
  2. Ekwe:
    The Ekwe (Silt-drum) is a tree trunk, hollowed throughout its length from two rectangular cavities at its ends and a horizontal slit that connects the cavities. The size of the slit-drum depends on its use and significance. Its significance includes use as musical instrument at coronation, cultural events and rituals. The different sounds of the drum summon the citizens at the monarch’s palaces, or town squares. The strong rhythm of the slit-drum, gave special signals for inundation, meetings, announcements of fire, theft and other emergencies.
  3. Ogene:
    The Ogene (Gong) is the most important metal instrument among the Igbo people. They were made originally in bronze but, in modern time, are mainly made of common metal as a bulging surface in elliptical shaped rim, and tapering like a frustum to its handle. It is hit about its rim by a stick to produce different tunes. The Ogene (gong) accompanies dances, songs, religious and secular ceremonies, and its tunes have been developed to transmit messages by a sort of lyric prose.
  4. Oja:
    oja flute - Igbo Traditional Musical Instruments
    The Oja (Flute) is a piece of wood designed with a cavity inside, the top has a wide opening to fit the shape of the human lower lip, a small hole on the bottom and two smaller holes closer to the top on exact opposite side. The artist blows the musical sounds through the wide opening, while placing the thumb and the ring fingers simultaneously on the two smallest holes to control the rhythm. The bottom hole which is left alone at all times controls the musical rhythm out flow. It accompanies dances and songs, or played as solo.


photo credit – nairaland user; somegirl1


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