The Xhosa umrhubhe mouthbow: an extraordinary musical instrument


  • Dave Dargie Fort Hare University



In the late 1970s a vinyl LP disc was published with recordings by David Marks of the Mpondo Xhosa musician Madosini Manqina [CD track 1]. The disc included several recordings of an unnamed musical instrument, referred to by Marks on the record sleeve as a ‘home-made Jew's harp'. The music produced by this instrument was a two-part overlapping polyphony, like a wind instrument accompanied by an overtone instrument - a musical bow of some sort. When I began work at the Catholic Lumko Pastoral Institute, situated then at old Lumko Mission near Lady Frere in the rural Thembu Xhosa area, I set about trying to find the instrument, to see if anyone in that area could play it. The most likely candidate was umrhubhe, a small musical bow which sounded like the accompanying instrument on the recordings. Many girls and young women still played umrhubhe in that area at that time - one could sometimes see a young woman carrying umrhubhe wedged onto herhead-dress. I took a tape copy of the Madosini recordings, and played them for people, to find out if they knew what it was. "Umrhubhe nomlozi" I was told: umrhubhe with whistling. In time I found several women who could perform umrhubhe nomlozi, some who lived in Ngqoko Village, two kilometres from Lumko, and others further afield: hence this article.




How to Cite

Dargie, Dave. 2011. “The Xhosa Umrhubhe Mouthbow: An Extraordinary Musical Instrument”. African Music : Journal of the International Library of African Music 9 (1):[33]-55.