Egwu nkwa ndi Igbo: Traditional Igbo Music and Musical Instruments

Updated on February 25, 2020
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Pot drum

drum | Source

Igbo People

Nigeria is blessed with amazing traditions, cultures and languages. The country is divided into three major ethnic groups the Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa.

The different ethnic groups create cultural diversity across the entire country. In southern Nigeria we have the Igbo people a large ethnic group that speak the Igbo language.

The language has many dialects according to subgroups, region and ancestry. Renown for their entrepreneurial spirit, Igbo traders span the entire country and beyond.

Although majority of food produced in Nigeria could be attributed to the North. The Igbo farmers contribute immensely to cash crops produced in the country.

Music and festivities is an integral part of Igbo lifestyle especially during weddings, child naming, chieftaincy coronations and festivals. Igbo subgroups are clan based with diverse ethnic identity, fashion, music, dance and folklore.

The traditional Igbo songs and musical presentations incorporate percussion instruments and flutes. The sound instruments include the hollow log- ekwe, udu and ogene instruments.

Traditional musical forms both local and modern in Igbo land are odumodu, Igbo highlife, Igbo rap and igbo hip hop. They also have ethnic dance forms such as the traditional Egedege dance.

Traditional Igbo Instruments

Igbo people have many traditional instruments that accompany their songs and music. The instruments are diverse and made from local materials such as tree logs, animal skin, horn, iron and brass.

Popular musical instruments are the drums, flute, hand percussion instruments and gong.

Udu Instrument


Udu Instrument

A plosive aero-phone instrument popular with traditional igbo music is the Udu. The Udu is a percussion instrument made from a water jug.

Artisans cut a hole in the side of the jug which produces a unique brass sound when a hand is placed over the top opening. The hand manipulations, skill and dexterity of the instrumentalist produce different brass tones.

Similar instruments identical to the Udu have slight variations in shape, membrane cover or two distinct holes provide interesting sounds.

Ogene gong

Ogene Gong
Ogene Gong

Ogene Metal Gong

The ogene is a struck idiophone instrument which produces a loud sharp sound. The large metal bell gong has immense significance in igbo music.

The instrument is hollow with a flat conical shape and struck with a stick. The iron body and wooden stick provides a distinctive sound common to ethnic igbo music.

Special Igbo Dance

The Pot Drum, Slit Drum, Iroko Drum and Igba Drum

The drum is an integral part of song and dance in igbo land. The three major ethnic groups in Nigeria feature the instrument in many important occasions.

They come in large, medium and small sizes depending on the region. Common drums used in igbo celebrations are the pot drum, slit drum ( Ekwe), Iroko and Egede drum.

The Pot Drum-The pot drum features a bell shape that resonate a low-deep pitched occasioned by rapid bursts of sound. Any change in tone depends on the amount of water inside the pot drum.

Egede Drum-The Egede drum is carved from a hollow log and a membrane is stretch over the opening. The musician plays the drum with a stick to produce melodious tunes. It takes several years for the drummer to master the craft.

The Slit Drum-The small slit drum consists of two horizontal slits and produces a distinctively hollow sound.

The iroko is also a large slit drum vigorously played with two sticks. It takes tremendous effort and consistent pounding to produce sound.

The iroko is used to covey urgent messages to villagers. It is not generally used in musical performances but to covey messages such as death or war.

The Igba Drum-The igba drum is used to herald the arrival of masquerades into the community. Used as accompanying instrument the versatile drum is played with fingers and a stick. It is made from hardwood and has an animal skin membrane.

Horn Instruments

Which is not a horn instrument

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Igba cultural dance

Igba cultural dance
Igba cultural dance | Source

Traditional Igbo Instruments

Wind instruments
Horn instruments
More Instruments
Udu clay jug
Ogene bell shaped gong

Horn Instrument

Horn Instrument
Horn Instrument

The Flute Instruments

The flute is a lead instrument that accompanies the drums. It produces a high pitched shrill sound that conveys meaning to the entire performance. Popular wind instruments found in tradition igbo music are ichaka, oja and okpola.

Oja flute

Oja flute is basically a small wood with an inner cavity placed on the lower lips. The musician controls the pitch and tone of the instrument by manipulating the thumb and ring finger over small holes in the instrument. The flute produces a sharp distinct sound that is enticing and entertaining.

Oja Flute

Oja Flute
Oja Flute

Horn instruments

Horn instruments are also used in Igbo musical renditions. The horns are generally harvested from dead elephants, buffalo, goat, deer and ram.

The odu-okike horn is a hollowed elephant tusk made into a wind instrument. The horn has deep traditional significance and used only by titled men in Igbo land.

The large instrument symbolizes authority, prestige, wealth and power. Only aristocrats and title holders are allowed to blow the odu-okike horn.

The horn is blown only on important festive occasions such as burial rites of titled men or marriage between igbo aristocrats. Other occasions include Ofala festival and chieftain installations.

Enenke horn

Horns harvested from different types of animal are grouped under Enenke. The horns have diverse applications such as notification of events and music renditions.

It is played during different occasions such as marriages, festivals and somber moments. They use the instrument to call village folks for meetings or during burial ceremonies.

Igbo Rattle


Igbo Rattle Instruments

A delightful looking rattle instrument is the Ichake-rattle. The ichaka rattle is made out of a calabash or gourd.

The sound it produces is due to beads sewn to a net around the instrument. The instrument is played by shaking the gourd or tapping the beads.

Thumb Piano

Thumb Piano
Thumb Piano

Ubo Thumb Piano

Another musical instrument of note in igbo music is the thumb piano. The instrument has a wooden gourd resonator and metal cuffs for each key. The instrumentalist plays the piano with his fingers or thumbs.

Igbo music Odumodu

The ohuhu people are credited for the Odumodu style of music. Odumodu music is predominantly sung by men. The group has a lead singer and backup male singers. The songs are usually vibrant and meaningful.

Igbo highlife

Igbo highlife is a blend of traditional igbo sound and highlife. The music is played using both local and modern instruments with a lead guitar.

The songs are melodious filled with message and repetitive lyrics. Notable igbo highlife artist are Oriental Brothers, Nico Mbaga, Sir Warrior and Oliver De Coque. Others include Chief Osita Osadebe, Celestine Ukwu and Bright Chimezie.

Igbo Highlife Music

Igbo Highlife Music
Igbo Highlife Music

Igbo Rap and Hip Hop

Contemporary igbo music has new infusion in rap music. The rap is delivered in igbo or pidgin English and usually sung too highlife tunes.

Other influences in the music are African American music, rhythm and blues including Nigerian sounds.

Egedege dance

The Egedege is an ancient royal cultural dance occasioned with elaborate flute playing, colorful outfits and different percussion instruments. The costumes worn by the dancers and lead singer are elaborate and flashy.

Traditional Igbo music is vibrant and fun, however the instruments are also played during somber occasions.

Igbo Speaking Area of Nigeria

Egwu adaba Onye ga agba

© 2016 femi


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    • profile image

      Nwibo ogochukwu 

      11 days ago

      Plese love

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      chukwuka okoli 

      14 months ago

      I like it

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      nwibo ogochukwu 

      14 months ago

      Thanks God for blessings his people


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