The gondze is a bowed spike-fiddle chordophone that is distributed widely throughout the Western Africa savanna. The gondze pictured here is from the Dagbamba people of northern Ghana. It is used as a court instrument to accompany songs with historical content, but is spreading into other contexts rapidly. Outside of playing for the king and court events, gondzes are played for Islamic events and increasingly for secular events such as weddings, funerals, in bars, and public gatherings. In the accompanying video clip gondze players are performing at the installation of a village chief, supporting singers who are delivering praise texts about important guests. In the early 1990s gondze players began to perform in conjunction with the government to aid in public education and public outreach. The playing of gondze is a highly structured and regulated skill. Specific families within each community specialize in gondze music and these families maintain a special relationship with the royalty. Traditionally royal patronage was the sole source of income for gondze families, but this has changed with the economic troubles that have affected the whole of Ghana. This change has created more economic freedom for members of gondze families, but has also had an impact on the prevalence of gondze in the court.
The resonating chamber of the gondze is a gourd, to which the monitor lizard skin soundboard is attached with iron nails and brass studs. This skin has a soundhole cut into it. A thin layer of leather covers the back of the gourd. The instrument’s neck is made from a slightly arched tree branch that runs through holes in the side of the resonator and underneath the lizard skin soundboard. The stick is covered with thin goatskin dyed black. It is to this stick neck that the playing string is attached. This is a composite string consisting of dozens of strands of horsehair bundled together. The top end of the string is tied to the end of the neck, while the bottom end is attached to a tailpiece that in turn is attached to the bottom end of the neck which protrudes only slightly from the back of the resonator. The string passes over a removable, inverted V-shaped wooden bridge the feet of which rest on the soundboard. A spherical brass ornament tops off the neck. The horsehair bow is strikingly short and arched, made from wood covered with goatskin dyed black.
Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production
The gondze is held nearly horizontally in the player's lap (when played in the seated position) with the soundboard facing up at about a 45-degree angle from horizontal. Whether being played while seated or standing, a cloth strap tied to the instrument’s neck and over the fiddler’s left shoulder stabilizes it (see video clip). The string is free stopped (not pushed against the neck) with the fingers of the left hand, and the bow is moved perpendicularly across the playing string with the right hand. The instrument has a range of approximately an octave and a fourth. A player may either accompany his own singing, or that of a separate praise singer and sometimes a small chorus. In certain performance settings the gondze player does this while dancing.
Origins/History/EvolutionThe Dagomba consider the history an essential aspect of any important thing. The gondze, and the fiddling tradition associated with it, has an oral history that extends into the 1700s. This history explains that the gondze was adopted from contact with the Gurma people of present day Burkina Faso. This oral history traces the chief fiddlers of the Dagomba, called Yamba-Naa, back through time to the original Yamba-Naa, although there are multiple versions of this oral history. Dagomba fiddlers are aware of the transformations that have taken place within the tradition because of the intense focus on historicity. Changes in both the instrument and the songs being sung are tracked by the players.
Chernoff, John. 2001. Master Fiddlers of Dagbon. CD and liner notes. Rounder Records 82161-5086-2.
DjeDje, Jacqueline Cogdell. 2008. Fiddling in West Africa: Touching the Spirit in Fulbe, Hausa, and Dagbamba Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Gourley, K. A. “Goge.” NGDMI v.2: 57-58.