For review this month is a comprehensive selection of ethnic percussion sourced by Performance Percussion. Characteristic of PP's wares, its range also includes starter kits, drum accessories, spares and a range of additional percussion catering for the educational market.
This is a 12-piece set supplied with its own hand-made, hand-woven basket. To describe in detail how each instrument is constructed and sounds would take many, many pages - with this in mind, we have opted to highlight as many features as possible.
With the exception of the metal parts of a kalimba (thumb piano), everything here is made from natural materials of animal hide, plant matter, seeds, wood, cane, nuts, straw etc.
The Shekere shakers are from whole gourds which have been dried and had their inner flesh removed, creating a natural sound box. To the outside is a string lattice containing seeds. This gives a swishing sound (not unlike a cabasa) when rotated and, when shaken, similar to maracas.
String, strips of leather and straw are the only materials binding together each component part. Considering this, the instruments appear well-made and, surprisingly, solidly constructed.
The Caxaxi shakers are a good example of this - made only from straw and filled with either small seeds or stones. The African Nut Shell shaker is made out of the hard nutty shells of the JuJu bean.
The largest of the items here are the Shekere shakers - these have a rich, penetrating sound which is amplified through their hollow chambers. You may think the smaller of the two is likely to be the quieter, but as the pitch is higher, it seems a whole lot louder.
Like almost every musical instrument, the way it sounds is dependent on how it is played - vertical movement provides accents as the seeds/stones strike the leathery base, then, altering the angle slightly demonstrates a subtler side. At the lesser end of the volume scale and equally subtle is the Chilean rainstick, sounding a tad like rain on a tin roof, but a lot like bacon frying!
The two instruments struck with their own beads (attached by string) are the Monkey Drum and the small African Hand Drum, or Ndilli Ndilli. The former is great for creating fast flams, while intricate rhythms are also possible.
Another one of the subtle instruments within the set is the tiny African Hand Drum, able to produce some moderate pitch bends while squeezing at the centre in a similar manner to a full-sized African Talking Drum.