The Banjo's Origin


Part I




Historical references to the origin of the banjo state that the banjo was brought to the New World in the seventeenth century.  In fact, the banjo or a form representing a gourd type of instrument could date as early as 1630 or 1640.  

Map of Africa


Could the banjo be thought of as an American instrument or does the credit for its birth go to Africa? Historical research of the banjo's true origin, if done correctly would entail securing documentation or artifacts that provide evidence which dates the instrument path through the ages from the African continent to the West Indies and to the New World.


Did native Africans play gourds that may have developed over hundreds of years into an instrument similar to what we know of as today's modern banjo? Were these gourds derivatives of instruments from Asia that were introduced to Africa? How was this instrument influenced by the ceremonial customs of the African people who were subsequently forced into slave labor stretching from Africa to Europe to the Caribbean and ultimately to the North American continent?  What musical influences were important in history that changed the popularity of the banjo from a four string to to a five string instrument? These and many other questions will be addressed in a series of articles by


The truth is that the historical record, whether it be derived from artwork, paintings, manuscripts or journals of explorers, may only reveal part of the story of this instrument's true origin.  Further research may be ongoing to study the true path that this instrument took over the course of a couple of centuries.  It may be that the research conducted may only provide a path of which some have gone on record as reporting that the banjo was brought to the New World by African slaves. Yet, little seems to be documented to identify how the instrument was crafted or invented by the natives of Africa. Thus, maybe that is where answer of the banjo's true origin lies.  

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