Mouth Bow: historical and contemporary photos
Hello friends, Samm Bennett here. I love playing the mouth bow. I've got a couple of different bows that I use frequently in performing and recording: one employs a metal wire and the other a strip of bamboo. It is probably one of the oldest instruments known to humankind. I put together this gallery of photos to give a glimpse of its historical and contemporary use in music making. I think it's of particular interest that the two locations in the world where the mouth bow has been in most frequent use is in parts of Africa (especially central and south Africa) and in the Appalachian region of the United States. Hope you enjoy these photos.
Alex Stewart of Appalachia playing mouth bow. via
Luba people from the Congo, playing mouth bows. via
1930 photogravure of two Ngangela boys playing mouthbows. Angola, Africa. Photograph by Alfred Schachzabel.
Eli Owens, Bogalusa, La. ca. 1973.
Mouth bow with can resonator
Source: The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts
John Michael Vlach, 1978.
My guess would be Papua New Guinea, but no info on this pic.
San (Bushmen) man playing mouth bow. via
Country singer/songwriter Jimmie Driftwood, playing the mouth bow. He's the guy who wrote The Battle of New Orleans and Tennessee Stud, among many other songs. via
Lawrence Warwick of Dark Hollow, Tennessee. via
Dan musician from Ivory Coast, playing mouth bow. via
Carlock Stooksbury playing mouth bow. He died at age 88, in January of 2012. Here's his obituary. And directly below is a photo from the Museum of Appalachia: it's a display at the museum featuring various musical instruments including... mouth bows. (via)
Obu man (Nigeria) playing mouth bow.
Botswana man playing mouth bow. via
Mouth bow player, Angola. via
At an internet auction site I found this image, part of a page from an old magazine article about the roots of the "Brudder Bones" minstrel show which was popular on the London stage in the late 1800s. The article seemed to be the usual (for the time) spewing of smugly arrogant and racist opinion concerning the savages' music and how wretchedly primitive it is. But the accompanying lithographs were good, and here's one featuring the mouth bow!
Two women playing musical bows, most likely from South Africa, late 19th century. One with calabash resonator bow, the other a mouth bow. via
Folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie has been a great proponent of the mouth bow. This lovely photo is from the 70s, I believe. via
San Francisco-based musician, instrument builder and artist Marilyn McNeal plays her mouth bow. Check her website here.
Left and right
playing the bow.
This is described
as being played by sliding the chin along
the thin vine in order to change its pitch. Note that a metal tub is used as resonator, not the mouth...
... so, technically, this is not really a "mouth bow". More of a "chin bow"! It's called the limbindi. via
Here's a man from Congo playing a small mouth bow which must have a relatively delicate sound. via
Aka pygmy man playing a rather large mouth bow
This photo dates back to 1910. via
Sam Tomlin of Appalachia. You can hear his (and others) recordings of mouth bow music here.
A Himba boy plays mouth bow. via
Once again here's Buffy Saint-Marie on mouth bow
And one more time, it's Buffy Saint Marie, in a beautiful
Zimbabwe man playing 'chipendani' mouth bow. via
A man from Botswana named Tom plays his mouth bow. via
West African mouth bow player Diro Dah.
Ngbaka man playing mouth bow. via (brief audio sample there)
A woman of South Africa plays the mouth bow. via
Yours truly, Samm Bennett, playing mouth bow. You can hear and see some of my performances using the instrument here at the Samm Bennett's mouth bow videos page.
Now, another area of the world that has a mouth bow tradition is Taiwan, where indigenous people there used the instrument and (perhaps?) still do. I had no knowledge of this traditions there until it was brought to my attention by mouth bow maker, player and enthusiast Colin Offord, who graciously sent along several historical photos he's collected from here and there. See below: