Musical instruments in Baskeet: Lyre

The most important and most widespread musical instrument in Baskeet is the lyre.

Pettimaasa Bulkk'a (from Gez-Dalba) with his lyre

Pettimaasa Bulkk’a (from Gez-Dalba) with his lyre

It is the only cordophone/string instrument played in Baskeet. It is played by both men and women and produced locally. Its Baskeet name is zimbi. The first lyre songs that I ever heard in Baskeet were played to me by Kantso Kammo, the spiritual head of the Kalmina’-clan, in 2008.

The instrument is made up of

  • a mostly bowl-shaped body, the resonator, which is either made from wood or a tortoise shell (see the picture below for a tortoise shell resonator). The resonator is covered with a taut cow skin on the front side.*
Lyre resonator from a tortoise shell

Lyre resonator from a tortoise shell

The tortoise shell resonators tend to be smaller than the wooden ones. The wooden bodies can also be pointed, as seen below:

Lyre with a pointed body

Lyre with a pointed body

  • five strings. The strings are wound around the crossbar of the frame on one end. On the other end, the strings are led across the bridge and then tied together, the bundle of strings is then led through a small hole in the skin cover and through the wood/shell of the resonator.

The tuning of a Baskeet lyre can be heard here: Lyre strings plucked one by one (click to listen): The strings are arranged from high to low (going from left to right on this photos presented in this post). Alternatively, I have also come across a lyre tuned in the way of the Gayl (i.e. the neighbouring Galila Aari): Gayl-tuning: lyre strings plucked one by one (click to listen). In this tuning, the lowest string is in the middle.

  • A triangular frame of three pieces of wood, two of which are inserted into the resonator through the skin cover.
  • Turners to adjust the string tension. The turners are found on the crossbar of the wooden frame.
Turners to adjust the string tension

Turners to adjust the string tension

  • A wooden bridge, fixed to the resonator, supporting the strings
Bridge of the lyre

Bridge of the lyre

  • A so-called “navel” (gul’a) at the backside of the lyre. The string ends are wound around this little piece of wood to fix them.
Back side of a lyre

Back side of a lyre

  • A thin rope, attached to the plectrum, to prevent the plectrum from being lost.
  • A rope as hand support, fixed to the wooden frame behind the strings. The lyre player holds the support rope with the small finger (cf. picture below).
Parts of a lyre

Parts of a lyre

The lyre is held sideways above the left hip (by right-handed players) or the right hip (by left-handed players) when the player is standing. When the player is sitting, the lyre rests on the thigh close to the upper part of the body. Some players tuck the lyre under the right or left arm.

More on the playing techniques, the types of songs played and the lyre players I met in my next posts.

© 2011-2 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved
* It seems that the cow skin is glued to the resonator. I will have to verify this during my next field trip.
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2 Responses to Musical instruments in Baskeet: Lyre

  1. Pingback: The techniques and vocabulary of lyre playing | Basket to Ethiopia

  2. Pingback: Publication on the Grammar of Questions in Baskeet | Basket to Ethiopia

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