All about n'goni! My upcoming trip to Mali... / by Leni Stern

I'll be traveling to Mali next week for a personal musical vacation, and it's all about my new favorite instrument, the n'goni...

The body of my n'goni is cut out of ebony. Sometimes even the neck is made from ebony, but since that's a very heavy wood, sometimes the neck is made from a lighter red wood. My favorite n'goni ba has a large ebony body and a red wood neck. The strings are traditionally attached with leathers strips, but I changed it to regular guitar tuning pegs which makes it much easier to play with western instruments and stay in tune. The n'goni has three playing strings and three resonator strings tuned D, the D up the octave, E, A, E up the octave, F# and a high A.  The high strings can be tuned as you like, but the playing strings are tuned D, E, A for the most common scale. There are four basic scales and they have the same notes as our scales but the way they are played in West Africa is a little different, with emphasis in different places. The jelly n'goni is tuned F, G, and C, a minor third above the n'goni ba. Bassekou Kouyate's father played all the n'gonis but his favorite was the n'goni ba.

Wha , the n'goni maker lives up the hill from Bassekou's house in the Bankoni District of Bamako. I plan to have him make 2 n'gonis for me, one in E one in C, the same as Bassekou, small ebony n'gonis with high strings. Maybe I'll string one of them with harp strings to be a little easier on my hands than the normal fishing line used for strings.

I want to spend two weeks just playing n'goni, not performing and recording like i usually do!  That's my idea of a vacation.