Virtuosic! Balla Kouyate dances while he plays the balafon, a West African xylophone tied to djeli traditions in Mali, where Kouyate was born. Usually the balafon has about 20 wooden bars tuned for West African musical traditions that reach back for many generations— but in this video you can hear how Kouyate deftly draws out melodies and unleashes extraordinary interlocking rhythms from two balafons, tuned so that he can play in any key. The buzzing sound you hear when he strikes the wooden bars comes from the gourd resonators underneath, which have small holes carefully covered by thin membranes, traditionally made of spider egg sacs. - Jay Loomis, Ethnomusicologist







When you hear Dreamers’ Circus play, the Scandinavian folk music trio will surprise you with their thickly textured sound. When you see them perform you’ll recognize two of their instruments right away: the fiddle, played by Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, and Nikolaj Busk on the accordion. The third instrument, in Ale Carr’s hands, might be harder to place: it’s a round bodied, guitar-like instrument called a cittern — it’s similar to a bass mandolin or the bouzouki, with roots that reach back to medieval Europe. Carr steadily strums his ten stringed cittern, which provides the rhythmic drive to Dreamers’ Circus foot tapping music. - Jay Loomis, Ethnomusicologist







The hurdy-gurdy is a feat of medieval engineering that has stood the test of time, as Nicolas Boulerice of Vent du Nord demonstrates every time he plays this fascinating stringed instrument. The performer “bows” the strings by turning a crank, which spins a wheel that sets the strings in motion to create the hurdy-gurdy signature sound. While several strings make melodies, others maintain a constant drone. In this video you can see how Nicolas Boulerice uses his right hand to steadily and rhythmically turn the crank, while his left hand plays the keyboard on the neck of the instrument to change the pitches. - Jay Loomis, Ethnomusicologist







The sounds of the kantele, the national instrument of Finland, can surprise you. This plucked, steel-stringed instrument rings out almost as quiet as a whisper - then unexpectedly, the strumming comes in and the quiet tune becomes a forceful ballad. In this song by Kardemimmit, Huoleton rakkaus, the band members play kantele of different sizes - the largest plucked zither is on the table and lays out bass lines, chords, and the catchy opening melody. The smaller instruments hang comfortably at the musicians’ waists where their fingers skillfully pluck individual strings to create interlocking phrases that accompany the tight vocal harmonies in their song. - Jay Loomis, Ethnomusicologist





MORIN HUUR ("Horse-head Fiddle") 


Two strings and so many sounds! The morin huur, or the Mongolian “horse-head fiddle,” figures prominently in the music of Anda Union. In the piece  "Galloping Horses", the musicians playing this instrument showcase its energetic, rhythmic quality and its capacity to imitate horse sounds. At the same time, the morin huur is known for its ability to express mournful feelings of longing and loss, which is not surprising if you consider some of the origin stories of this amazing instrument— common lore recounts how a boy made the first morin huur from the remains of his beloved, unjustly slain horse. - Jay Loomis, Ethnomusicologist