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Talking Musical Instruments Of Edo Culture

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By Ambrose Ekhosuehi (Last update 25/09/2017)

Talking Musical Instruments lie in the tonal quality of most languages, in the fact that the instrument reproduces the tones, stresses and numbers of syllables in the various utterances. Talking instruments do not use a kind of morse system and the talk has often attracted the attention of visitors and observers.

Edo talking musical instruments give performers and listeners the opportunity to express and experience a variety of emotions. Some of which are hostility, excitement, psychological relief and to increase dramatic tension at points of climax, but their blasts also express the excitement of the adversaries and hostility.

It was said that the functions of music concern the reasons for its employment and particularly the broader purpose which it serves and among the several functions are those of emotional expression, entertainment, communication, symbolic representation, enforcing conformity to social norms, validation of social institution and religious rites.

The general principle which underlies the ‘talk’ of the various instrument are in the tonal quality of most of the languages and in the fact that the instruments reproduces tones, stresses, and numbers of syllables. What the instruments transmit, therefore, is not usually a code or a cipher but rather an abstraction from a total speech, a tendency towards standardized messages and towards fairly long utterances, since short, non-standard transmissions may be ambiguous, unless the social context supplies the necessary limitations to possible interpretation.

Many Edo talking instruments can be used to reproduce the essential features of the tonal system but some types are more used than others.

Horns-Urhu, Ekpere are very good at talking. They are often used in sounding its note at the proper time. The same is true of clapperless bells. They are used to announce important visitors and to summon meetings.

Edo Talking instruments are used for signaling important events, such as outbreak of war, meetings and in some communities people are often called together to the sound of a large drum, and in some places an Ekpere horn is used.

Musical bows are used by all Edo groups for entertainment and as talking instrument. They consists of a bow made of branch of wood. Musical bows of this kind are called Egion by the Benin and known to the Ivbiosakon, who used the name aidion. Egion is a one-stringed native musical instrument in the form of a bow put to the mouth and played with two sticks.

The bow string passes across the open mouth which serves as a resonator. The lips do not touch the string at any time and to get several pitches of the talk, the string is divided by touching it with a foot long stick which is held in the right hand. By varying the size of the buccal (mouth) cavity, the player can isolate and intensify a number of partials and by alternating these; the player can produce a melody or distinct talk simultaneously with the fundamental tone of the string.

Egion talking instrument is one of the oldest types of talking instruments still in use played by men; and also the most widespread.

Asologun is a lamella-phones played solo or together with other lamellaphones to accompany story telling. It was safer to play this talking instrument during day time, because certain spiritual beings the ‘Eninwanren Ason’ the elders of the night are supposed to be attracted to the talk or the telling melody of this instrument.

The story teller and the people of the night are both in a state of constant liminality; both are transitory figures, alien to and part of the social system at one and at the same time.

The Asologun was also associated with two deviant persons within the Benin culture; the giant Arhuanran and Oba Ewuakpe who played the Asologun to transmit the event for Divine interventions. Arhuanran played the talking Asologun to Lament the fierce battle and entered into the Odighi lake for ever. Oba Ewuakpe played the Asologun to invoke the Ancestral spirit and a diviner visited him, and the performance of a sacrifice was a turning point in Oba Ewuakpe relationship with his subjects who returned to pay him royal respect; and to relieve his grief during the time of misery, the Oba used to play the Asologun talking instrument and sang through the melody.

A professional narrator usually brings with him his own choir, the members of which are called ‘Igbesa’ or supporters while playing the talking instruments. The degree of ornamentation and the degree of metrical complexity vary from narrator to narrator and from narrative to narrative.

In telling the tales, the narrator opens the recitation with a string of proverbial phrases of the talking instrument, which includes praise for the host, greetings to the audience and wishes of blessing to everyone present.

The Asologun player would strike the string of the talking instrument and introduced the opening verse “Ikpinhin — obo re a ya bu ose omwa ude o —e e” that is “Finger is used to reprove a friend”. Such an introduction continues for a while, until the narrator starts the actual narrative by introducing” “ya ghe egbe ghe O; ne a ya bu ohien n’ Edo Asologun a re okhae” simply means “Do to thyself as you would do to others so says the Asologun”

Most Edo talking instruments are likely to have existed for many centuries ago together with the talking drums of Edo culture, one of the few exception is the large lamellaphone, the agidigbo, but the Edo physicians — called native doctors use the Oko as talking instrument in divining and curing

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