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Microphone Month 4

Earth Bow

The earth bow is the African ancestor of the tea chest bass (or washtub bass), used in skiffle and jug band music. The earth bow consists of a shallow hole dug next to a sapling tree with an animal skin stretched over the hole. Some form of animal sinew was connected from the animal skin to the top of the sapling. (Before you say “ooh, gross!” recall that violin strings were made of cat gut and violin bows were made of horse hair.) The animal-skin covered hole is the resonator, while bending the pole and plucking the animal sinew produces musical tones and pitch changes. Upon seeing the earth bow, it becomes quite apparent the washtub/tea chest bass had its origins in Africa. Although considered a toy in northern Ghana and Uganda, the earth bow is often used in ritual “magic.”

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