How do I Make a Shekere?

Written by kat black
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How do I Make a Shekere?
Traditional shekere makers might use shells in place of beads. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Percussion instruments of West African origin, shekeres are rattles made from gourds. These instruments are common in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Benin, and they have made their way to the Americas and the Caribbean. Because this instrument is so geographically diverse, many different names exist for it. Alternate names and spellings include agbe, axatse, sekere and xequere.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Dry gourd
  • Scrubber
  • Soap
  • Hacksaw
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Scissors
  • Nylon string
  • Lighter
  • Beads

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  1. 1

    Scrub the gourd with soapy water to remove any caked-on dirt.

  2. 2

    Saw off the top of the gourd's neck with your hacksaw. Keep enough of the neck attached to the gourd so you can use it as a handle. Use gentle motions to avoid damaging the sound quality of your shekere.

  3. 3

    Straighten the hook on the coat hanger and poke at the interior of the gourd to loosen the seeds and fibrous material. Once some of the material becomes loose, turn the gourd over so it falls out. Continue poking and scraping the inside of the gourd until the interior walls are smooth.

  4. 4

    Cut a piece of string and tie it around the neck of the gourd. This string is the "collar." Use a double knot so the string does not come untied.

  5. 5

    Cut between 15 and 30 long lengths of string. For smaller gourds, cut fewer pieces; for larger gourds, cut more pieces. Each length of string should be approximately eight times the length from the collar to the base of the gourd. To keep the thread from unravelling, burn the ends with a lighter.

  6. 6

    Take one of the strings and fold it in half. Slip the centre of the string under the collar and pull it partway through. Thread both ends of the string through the loop and pull to tighten the knot. Repeat this process with all the pieces of string. Arrange the strings so they are equally spaced around the gourd.

  7. 7

    Tie loop knots on all of the strings by grasping both ends of one string in your right hand. Secure the rest of the string in your left hand. Pull the ends up and to the right. Then, pass the ends above your left hand and thread them through the loop. Push the loop up to the collar. Repeat this process with all the strings.

  8. 8

    Pass the left end of one of the strings through a hole in a bead. Push the bead up toward the collar. Grasp the right end of the string immediately to the left of the beaded string. Tie a loop knot to secure the bead. Repeat this process, always pairing left and right strands from adjacent strings. Work horizontally around the gourd. Once you have completed one circle around the gourd, repeat until you reach the base of the gourd.

  9. 9

    Gather the loose ends of all of the strings and tie a loop knot positioned on the base of the gourd. This knot secures the entire skirt.

Tips and warnings

  • Experiment with different numbers and colours of beads between each knot to create different bead patterns on your shekere.
  • When burning the ends of the nylon rope, prevent burns by avoiding contact with any dripping nylon.

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