N’goni are west African rhythm harps. There are three main types, the djeli, the donso and the kamale. The donso and kamale n’goni are similar to the kora, only having less strings and being slightly different in construction.
The donso n’goni is the six string harp of the traditional hunter societies from the historic Wassoulou region of Mali, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. The word donso can be translated as hunting or hunter. For this reason the donso n’goni are also known as the hunters harp. Donso n’goni are ceremonial instruments, used by hunters to accompany traditional chanting and storytelling. They often have a shaker called a kesing kesing that is attached to the top of the instrument and vibrates when being played. Donso n’goni are played in ceremony together with the karagnan (also called kariyan or kassa kassa), a serrated metal tube that is scraped with a metal stick.
The kamale n’goni (pictured above) is a modern variation of the donso n’goni. Kamale can be translated as youth, so the kamale n’goni is said the be the harp of the new generation to play modern arrangements on, rather than the traditional compositions. Alata Brulaye is said to have first made this variation in the 1960’s by adding more strings to the donso n’goni. Structurally, that is the only significant difference between the donso and the kamale n’goni. Today kamale n’goni are usually made with ten, twelve or fourteen strings.
Both the donso and the kamale n’goni are made from a large gourd with a goat skin stretched over an opening in the top and fastened with brass taks on the sides. The bridge sits on top of the goat skin and connects the strings from the base of the n’goni to the stem where they are tuned. In West African countries, traditionally the stem of n’goni is made from a species of bamboo that is solid. Traditional strings are made from animal intestine and bound to the bamboo stem of the n’goni. Today plastic strings are most often used as well as a variety of types of wood for the neck together with guitar machine heads for tuning.