MUSIC (Live video): WACKY INSTRUMENTS Part 1: The VALIHA (Bamboo Zither)

Hello everybody on HIVE and especially those of the Music Community! I am writing to you from Cape Town, South Africa, where I work by day as a Renewable Energy Developer, but the two hobbies I tend to post the most about on HIVE are my music and song writing (usually performed these days with fellow HIVER @clairemobey – please follow her!) and surfing.

Now usually when I get up on stage to play my/our own music or some covers, my main instruments are as follows:

•Guitar – especially Acoustic Steel String – All of my personal styles of guitar playing (open tunings, palm muting, strumming, picking and percussive slapping) all suit this kind of guitar best because it’s the kind I’ve grown into playing the most. I find when I play other kinds of guitar, I must quickly remember that they have other strengths and weaknesses that I’m not used to! Therefore, I would say I’m good at acoustic steel string guitar playing and only average on other guitars!
•Vocals – I sing on all of my songs. I have never been trained but my voice seems to be versatile with a bit of range, so I get away with singing various styles of songs which is nice.
•Harmonica – I can play harmonica on a rack while I play guitar at the same time, similar to how Bob Dylan or Neil Young do it. It helps with folky or bluesy songs, and it seems to impress people if you can play two instruments at once!
•Stompbox – I naturally stomp my foot to keep time – I’ve recently got myself a toy that turns this into a bit of a kick-drum sound to emphasize the beat of my/our more up-beat songs!

That’s about it – except I do own a loop pedal and have been thinking about making at least one of our songs revolve around that when we go up on stage next. There are strengths and weaknesses to a loop pedal though! One of the strengths is that I would record a loop of guitar and then potentially jam over my own guitar playing, with the guitar or theoretically any sounds I could conceive of making! Now this opens up a whole new world: I love interesting sounds and instruments! The weakness of course is that the song must have a simple structure that repeats the whole way through…

I thought I might add to my normal topics about music on HIVE. So far it's usually been about:
•My own songs and the gigs I perform with @clairemobey. For example: see @jasperdick/music-live-video-a-new
•Other South African musicians that I think the world should be listening to. For example, see @jasperdick/music-another-south-african-talent

But how about another topic, to open my mind and think about what could be achieved on stage in the future – maybe with the loop pedal, or possibly even without it: INSTRUMENTS SO UNUSUAL YOU DON’T HAVE TO PLAY THEM WELL TO IMPRESS PEOPLE.

PART 1 – the Valiha (Simple Bamboo Zither)

Well here it is – The Bamboo Zither – a beautiful thing although I’ve ruined its appearance with stickers to remind me where certain main chords are – those stickers are easily removed, don’t worry!

While sadly saying goodbye to some friends who were packing up their house and moving to another country, they gave me this instrument that they said their in-laws had picked up on a holiday in the Comores. I have done enough research to know it would be called a Valiha in Mozambique, another island situated off East Africa.

If I had been given this thing a few years prior I probably wouldn’t have known what to do with it, but I noticed that it had 11 strings stretched over it, and that you could tune the note of the string by moving little cork “frets” around (similar to a Kyoto in Japan)?

Now you could decide to tune these strings anyway you like… perhaps in the Do-Re-Mi sequence of a scale?

However, if I tuned it like that – to play a full 3 note chord by plucking the correct three strings would be difficult as they would be too far apart! For example, if I tuned the zither to the Cmaj scale in order… a Cmaj chord would mean plucking strings 1,3 and 5 – while an Fmaj chord would mean plucking strings 4,6 and 8. This would be impossible as the strings go all the way around the bamboo! No – the 3 notes that make up the chord would have to be next to each other!

So I don’t know if this is how they actually tune the Bamboo zither/Vahila in the islands off East Africa – but this how I do it to pluck away in a Western Scale! I don’t tune the 11th string and might actually cut it off and use the gap to mark the beginning and end of the circle! Seeing as I don’t usually need the Diminished 7th chord or a second place to pluck the Major 5th chord… I could actually make do with only 8 strings! I must remember this if I ever try to make my own version of this instrument – I would like to go bigger with a big PVC pipe and more sound holes!

In fact, I think in this video of me covering a Maroon 5 song on the zither, I only had to tune 7 strings in a row to get the 5 chords I needed! I hope you enjoy it!


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