Papua New Guinea
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Skin drums can add value to your music

MUSICIANS VAULT – Part 4.1

BY BARNEY ORERE

WHILST Papua New Guinea has been opened up dramatically with the advent of modern communication methods, traditionally, tribesmen have used various methods to relay information. Indeed, some of these methods are still used in remote areas. Music as in singing with an instrument of some sort is a form of communication where the artist expresses his thoughts or emotions.

Skin drums, popularily called kundu is used for singsing which could broadly fall under entertainment.

In contemporary terms the skin drum is used in church worship and in some cultures to accompany crying during mourning where the mourners compose songs to honour the dead.

Whatever the occasion, there is a place for skin drums because they were always there in the beginning. It is like Country and Western Music; it was always there, it just came to town. So the old kundu can be part of your modern band set up if only you stand them up on a pedestal and the alternate drummer can play them. The pitch of the sounds will obviously be different so this can be achieved by the maker of the skin drum with different skins for the drum head or the way the primers are used.

The kundu can be found throughout PNG while the garamut is popular in specific parts of New Guinea such as Manus.

Drums in Papua New Guinea which produce sound by the vibration of a stretched skin are used in sing-sings, rituals, funerals, church worship and in war. In terms of music, stories or messages are portrayed by singing with the accompaniment of musical instruments to give the message’s appeal. There is usually some form of choreography which is a refinement of the message in the music.

The use of skin drums in funerals accompanied by singing found in some cultures is meant to stir the emotion of women to cry more for the deceased.

In rituals, the message there is to tingle the spine, and in church music, the people use drums to sing along with songs they compose about their beliefs. The sound is produced by the vibration of a stretched skin across only one opening of the tubular resonating chamber.

The skin or head is set in vibration by the striking hand. It can be a lizard or snake skin.

In some places where snake skins are obtained, an incision is made around the neck and the snake allowed to escape while the hunter firmly pulls back. As it tries to get away, the hunter holds on to the cut in the skin and the snake’s own energy peels off the skin squeaky clean.

Resonating chambers of PNG drums may be cylindrical, conical or hour glass-shaped.

Skins may be glued or fastened by a hoop of cane to the opening of the drum. In many areas small pellets of wax adhering to the centre of the head assist in maintaining the tension and consequently the skin-drum’s pitch.

The Pidgin term Kundu generally applies to all skin drums.Musical instruments observed in Papua New Guinea and adjacent islands have been classified according to the nature of the vibrating medium.