The Lyre


The lyre, a harp that is strummed as well as plucked, is played all over the east African and Red Sea region, and is depicted in temples and pharaohs’ tombs many thousands of years old. The Beja of northern and eastern Sudan, who call the instrument masankop, have played it since time immemorial. It was from their homeland that it found its way all over the Sudan, and to Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, developing a staggering variety of traditions and styles of playing.

It is the oldest complete instrument. Melody, harmony and rhythm are produced simultaneously when it is played, simply by the nature of the technique, which involves muting and unmuting the open strings.

The original five-stringed lyre is the grandfather of a wealth of local instruments found in East Africa, such as the Ethiopian begena, almost as tall as a person, or the Egyptian simsimiyya, which has been developed to include as many as 25 strings and play all the oriental scales.

Regardless of the materials used to build it, which are often whatever the artist has at hand, the masankop retains its basic shape- a body from which two arms protrude, connected by a cross piece. It is traditionally made with an animal skin wrapped around a wooden bowl or a gourd. Bicycle brake wire is now used for strings; before metal, they were made from the nerves of the gazelle’s leg.

  ahmed hand  IMG 6521