Percussion instruments can be a paradox. The simplicity of the design of many hand percussion instruments versus the incredible depth of sound they provide can be a challenging concept for anyone to truly understand… except the percussion fanatic, that is. The shekere (pronounced: SHAY-kuh-ray), for example, may be one of the most underestimated hand percussion instruments; yet, it has an incredible versatility in both image and sound that can take rhythm to entire new heights.
Shekeres were originally created from dry, hollow gourds, using the natural sound of the dried seeds on the inside to create a natural rattle sound and feel. The size of the gourd, however, also enabled people to strike the surface, much like a hand drum, adding more dimension to the shaky-rattle sound. The most distinctive aspect of the shekere, however, is perhaps the beaded “skirt” that is woven around the instrument. The beads (sometimes, even seeds or shells are used) scratch against the surface of the gourd as it is played, creating yet another layer of percussive sound that naturally enhances the groove.
Today, shekeres are still made from dried gourds, allowing for each instrument to have its own unique sound that is attributed to the type of gourd used, the size of the gourd and the materials used in the skirt of the instrument. There are also many fiberglass shekeres that provide a uniform sound within any ensemble, or for the percussionist who may desire a studier instrument.
While the shekere is not always a staple instrument within a percussionist’s arsenal, adding it into the mix can be a fun experience that develops a unique sound for any type of music. Additionally, learning to play the shekere is a passion all it's own. Shekeres may be a simple concept, overall, but, the ingenuity of its design and its ability to blend into type of music make it a “must have” percussion instrument for any musician or drummer.