The techniques and vocabulary of lyre playing

In my last post, the Baskeet lyre (zimbi) has been portrayed. Today, I take a look at the vocabulary of lyre playing.

In the Baskeet language, playing a lyre is literally expressed as “blowing” a lyre. The central meaning of the verb puggide is ‘blow’, as in ‘blow away a leaf/feather/hair’ or ‘blow into the fire (so that it lights up)’. As such, it is also used to express ‘play a wind instrument’, e.g. ‘blow a zaya-trumpet’, ‘blow a moyza-trumpet’, or ‘blow a shulshula-flute’. From wind instruments, the use of the verb puggide has been extended to ‘play the lyre’, although the player does not expel any air to make the lyre sound. (A short linguistic note: The citation form of the Baskeet verb forms is the 3m perfective form (‘he V-ed’).)

The Baskeet apply two techniques to make the strings of the lyre vibrate:

1. Strumming

With a small bamboo plectrum (called zimbi mitts ‘lyre stick’) in one hand, the player brushes past several (or all) strings and sets them into motion; the other hand prevents the strings not played from sounding. This first technique is literally called “slapping” in Baskeet (bakk’ide) and predominately applied by men.

On the video below, the lyre player Wondu Sooddo (from the neighbourhood of Baya-Boraz-Borgalla) demonstrates how the lyre is “slapped”. The rhythm he plays is called Aakkwase, one of the most popular lyre rhythms in Baskeet.

(NB: The video only served to demonstrate the rhythm. The Aakkwase is always accompanied by a praise song.)

2. Plucking

With the fingers of the right and left hand the strings are plucked similar to a harp. This second technique is predominately applied by women. It is literally called “pecking” in Baskeet; the verb dukkide ‘peck’ is polysemous and used, non-figuratively, for the striking or biting of a bird with its beak.

On the video below, the lyre player Mahane Dohanbaabo (from Gazda) demonstrates how the lyre is “pecked”. The rhythm she plays is called Gel’o.

(NB: The video only served to demonstrate the Gel’o-rhythm and does not show the complete song.)

© 2011-2 Baskettoethiopia All Rights Reserved
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Acknowledgments: I am grateful to Wondu Sooddo and Mahane Dohanbaabo for sharing their knowledge about the lyre playing techniques with me.
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