Title: Diari—Enskinment Celebration. Label: Vetter field recording, 10/4/1993. Format: Hi8. Catalogue#: VC-8.

Contextual Associations

The zaabia is a vessel-rattle idiophone used by the Dagbamba people of northern Ghana. It is played alongside the spike fiddle gondze. The zaabia is most frequently played by female members of families that traditionally play gondze, but is not exclusively a female instrument. All males who learn gondze also learn to play zaabia and females are not forbidden to play the gondze. Males who excel at playing zaabia sometimes forego learning gondze in favor of continuing with zaabia.


The zaabia is made from a bottleneck-shaped gourd that has most of the smaller of its two spherical ends cut off leaving a slightly flared opening. The gourd is dried and emptied of its natural contents. Seeds are inserted into the vessel and the open top is plugged with a cloth-padded disc.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The natural neck of the gourd provides the player with a handle to hold on to with one hand. The rattle’s spherical body is positioned on top (inverted from the way it is posed in the gallery photo). The player produces rhythmic patterns both by shaking the rattle and pounding the side of the vessel against the palm of his or her free hand. It is a purely rhythmic instrument.


The zaabia has likely existed throughout the history of the gondze music tradition. The oral history of the gondze extends back into the early 1700's and was documented in texts in the late 1800's. This history explains that the gondze was adopted from contact with the Gurma people of present day Burkina Faso. This oral history traces the chief fiddlers of the Dagomba, called Yamba-Naa, back through time to the original Yamba-Naa, although there are multiple versions of this oral history.

Bibliographic Citations

Chernoff, John. 2001. Master Fiddlers of Dagbon. CD and liner notes. Rounder Records 82161-5086-2.

DjeDje, Jacqueline Cogdell. 2008. Fiddling in West Africa: Touching the Spirit in Fulbe, Hausa, and Dagbamba Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Nation: Ghana

Formation: Dagbamba

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

112.13 idiophone--vessel rattles: rattling objects enclosed in a vessel strike against each other or against the walls of the vessel, or usually against both

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: stamping and shaking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: hollow spheroid vessel - closed

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - indirect

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - pellet/s, seed/s, bead/s inside closed vessel/s

Energy input motion by performer: stamping and shaking

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


12.6 in. height

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Toby Austin, Roger Vetter