Gourd Water Drum

Gourds have been used as musical instruments in Africa, Asia, and the Americas for thousands of years.  Gourds have been used as percussion instruments by cultures around the world.  Water drums, rattles, and rainsticks are three of the easiest instruments to create.  The “water –drum” made from two gourd halves produces a rich, unique sound.  Four or five different sized water drums tuned by increasing or decreasing their amount of water provides a set of percussion with wonderfully resonant bass tones. 

The gourd drum has even made it into modern science-fiction

The Gourd Water Drum is a musical instrument used in both social music as well as rituals by the Na'vi.  According to the official Pandora Encyclopedia:  Similar to the jicara de agua from Mexico, the Na’vi gourd drum is created by filling a gourd bowl with water and placing an inverted half gourd in the water. The inverted gourd is struck with one wooden drum stick.  (if none of this made sense – rent the SCIFI  movie Avitar)

Meanwhile back on Earth:  

In Central America, the Jjicara de agua or Bubalak is an ancient water drum that was used by Maya, Mexica/Aztecs, and Yaqui musicians.   It is struck with a hand held "beater" (mallet) while the inverted hollowed-out gourd floats in a bowl or container of water.  

In southern Sonora,
Mexico the Deer Dance, which is attributed to the Yaqui culture, is accompanied by the water drum to simulate the beating heart of the deer.  The dancer use a gourd rattle to imitate the animal's movement and breathing.

In West Africa, the water drum is a gourd-based, water-resonated percussion instrument that derives "water drum" from a literal translation of its name in various West African languages.  Water-resonated percussion gourds are sex-specific in some societies, but originally it was played exclusively by women.  In other areas of Africa, the instruments are played by both sexes, in contexts ranging from baptisms, circumcisions, weddings, and initiations to funeral rites.   Today, it is played by both men and women and has become an important element of Afro-pop music.   

Water-resonated percussion gourds found in parts of the Americas were introduced by Africans   Where they occur, the instruments are virtually identical in construction as their African counterparts and are used in the same secular and ritual contexts.   In Cuba water gourd percussion is played as a part of funeral rites for deceased practitioners of certain African-derived religions.

The drum is constructed from one or more half gourds that are floated, with their open sides facing down, in a larger half gourd filled with a quantity of water.

 The size, density and amount of air trapped under the gourd determine its pitch and tonal qualities.  ­The larger and thicker the gourd the deeper the tone, the smaller and thinner the gourd (walls) the higher the pitch. The drums can be slightly tuned by allowing some of the air trapped underneath to escape ­ raising the pitch. This allows for some flexibility in tonal pitch while playing with other "tuned" instruments as accompaniment. The drums can be highly decorative ­ dependent on the skill of the artisan/student creating them.  When not used a drum, they make beautiful wall hangings.

Not only has the water gourd been used in SciFi movies, it has been used in symphonies.  The Sinfonía India is Carlos Chávez's Symphony No. 2, composed in 1935–36 includes a percussion section that originally included a large number of indigenous Mexican instruments.  One example is the jicara de agua (half of a gourd inverted and partly submerged in a basin of water, struck with sticks.)  For less classical music uses of the gourd water drum, you can hear John Ramsey play it with the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra based in Richmond, VA.

Closer to home – why not teach a class of students or adults to make and play a water drum?  Liven up a gourd demonstration with a percussion concert.  The RIGO usually has a gourd petting zoo at their concerts.  Here is a link to a lesson plan and gourd drum tutorial.  

Lesson Plan: http://www.drumzrguruven.com/httpdocs/pdfs/Water%20Gourd%20Drum%20lesson%20plan.pdf

Aztec You Tube “How to make a gourd water drum”: http://www.rtbot.net/play.php?id=wul-CiPN5vk


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