When I was younger, I took violin lessons. It’s the only instrument I’ve ever really played. I figured out how to do a few simple things on other instruments, such as the piano or recorder. I always like to try out different instruments, though. My children discovered the otamatone last year, and really enjoyed it. My son also asked for, and got, a ukulele for his birthday. One of the most unusual and interesting instruments I’ve ever seen, though, is called a guembri (also called a gimbri, sintir or hajhouj). It’s a Moroccan instrument that is made by hand. I feel lucky, because I know someone who makes them. They’re rare and difficult to find, but your best bet is to get one from Morocco. We borrowed one for a while, and I found it to be quite intriguing. The sound is unlike other string instruments. It’s more than just a string instrument, however. While playing it, the musician also taps on the instrument, which produces a drum like sound. So, it’s kind of like two instruments in one! Also, it only has three strings. They’re plucked, similar to the guitar or ukulele, but with a deep, rich sound. The addition of the drum-like sound adds a dimension not found in other instruments.
A little history: The guembri was created by the Tuareg people of Morocco, and is used for gnaoua music. There is a Gnaoua World Music Festival in Essaouira, Morocco, every summer for musicians from all over the world. They come together to join with the gnaoua musicians and create music. It’s kind of like Woodstock without the drugs! It sounds fascinating, and I hope to attend one day. I know some people who have been there. They said it’s a wonderful week-long event, and a great place to be. They’ve met so many people there, and would like to return.
Some guembris are very plain and basic, and some are quite ornate; all have a soulful sound. When we borrowed one of these amazing instruments, I was awestruck by the beauty and craftsmanship of it. The structure of it was unusual, and it produced a deep and rich sound. It was almost too beautiful to play! The back and sides of the instrument were made of wood, and the elaborate designs were inlaid by hand. They are colorful and quite detailed. They are then covered with a shellac to protect them. The front is a thin but very strong membrane, which has been dyed with henna to create a stunning pattern. There is even an intricate inlaid design on the neck of the instrument. It’s as much a work of art as it is a musical sensation!
Make sure to watch the video to hear the incredible sound of this lovely creation. It’s not something that can be adequately conveyed through words. If you are interested in purchasing an ornate guembri similar to the one pictured above you might do so here: http://www.joinedcultures.com/shop/guembri-musical-instrument-hajhouj/