Introducing the valiha
Guest blog by Tom Miles, Europeana Creative Project Manager at the British Library.
Speaking as someone with an interest in all types of music and musical instruments from around the world, the wealth of information that is on Europeana still continues to amaze me. There is a huge potential for all this shared information to be used in so many different ways. This is why the Europeana Creative project aims to encourage creative professionals – whether they work in design, media, heritage institutions or education – to re-use cultural content.
‘Cithare tubulaire “valiha”‘, MIMO – Musical Instrument Museums Online, CC-BY-NC-SA
I’d like to introduce you to a kind of musical instrument you may not be familiar with – the ‘valiha’ or ‘marouvani’. You can find several examples of them on Europeana. This is a stringed instrument from Madagascar and its generic name, under the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system, is a ‘whole tube zither’. The body of the instrument is made from a single piece of tube which bears the strings. In the case of the valiha, the whole tube in question is a piece of thick bamboo.
‘Valiha’, Musical Instrument Museums Online, CC-BY-NC-SA
In this example, you can see that the valiha’s strings are formed by splitting strips of wood away from the main bamboo tube, between two nodes (like the black band you see to the right of the picture). The strips of bamboo are then raised on small bridges (the stud shaped like a flower in the picture). These bridges allow the strings to be plucked or struck and, by varying the length of the strips around the tube, different pitches are produced.
‘Valiha’, Musical Instruments Museums Online, CC-BY-NC-SA
If the instrument’s body and its strings are of the same material, it is known as an ‘idiochord tube zither’. But the strings of a valiha can also be of a different material to the body – such as this one or the one pictured below which has brass strings – making the instrument a ‘heterochord zither’.
‘Cithare tubulaire “Valiha”‘, Musical Instrument Museums Online, CC-BY-NC-SA
To get an idea of what a beautiful sound the valiha makes, here’s a short piece for valiha and guitar:
Or, if you want to start learning to play the valiha yourself, here’s a first lesson.