My New Zouk

zouk.JPGI have a new instrument. An Irish Bouzouki, or Zouk. It’s a relative of the mandolin, having 4 courses (double stings) tuned (like the mandolin or violin but an octave down) G-D-A-E. This means that guitar chord shapes are not very helpful. But it is this fact I love – it forces you to follow your ear not your visual patterns.  

The Irish made this originally Greek instrument their own about 50 or 60 years ago. Donal Lunny is perhaps the Irish Bouzouki’s finest exponent. (Although Monthy Pythons Cheeze Shop Ensemble really catipulted the instrument family to fame). 

It has been used extensively by Celtic bands; a favourite example of mine is the Afro-Celt Sound System. I first decided I wanted one after hearing Blue States “Elios Therepia”.  

This is the first instrument I have commissioned. I asked Dave Shapiro (of Porterville, Western Cape) to build me one after seeing his work. He delivered it last weekend, and boy is it a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. It is made of Kiaat (a local hard wood) for the back and sides, Cedar for the top, and Indian Rosewood for the fretboard.

In this last week I have put bazouki parts down on 5 tracks on my new album, it now feels complete – I had imagined this sound long before I actually had the instrument. More on the recording project later, for those who are interested.

I love these times of newness – so much comes out of them. So many new ideas, themes, sounds. I have taken to acquiring instruments in the last 5 years. Up until that time I aspired towards “specialization”, I have played guitars and saxophones since I was 16, that’s almost 30 years ago. My liberation from specialization came when my wife Ann bought me a mandolin for my 40th birthday.

Since then I have added to my collection a charango (Bolivian stringed instrument traditionally crafted from the shell of armadillo), a bass clarinet, a set of Indian tablas (2 hand played drums), a tunable didgeridoo, and ectara (One stringed Indian instrument), a wonderful Upright Piano (Grotrian Steinweg) which we inherited from Anns aunt, and many more hi-tech electronic tools – Korg Kaoss pad, plus various software systems – Native Intrument’s Reaktor and Abletons Live for example. 

Everyone should take up a new instrument every few years – it’s a great creative tonic. 

Anyone out there done this recently?


  1. Tryme said

    Well, having never really got anywhere with my first instrument (Saxophone) I eventually decided to take up a whole new career. Shape shifting is part of exploring life fully. (And there is so much of it to live I am forced to embrace the idea of reincarnation.) This is by no means devoid of pain but I somehow feel once you are over 40 you have passed enough water to be entitled to shape shift without having to fill in a leave form, explain yourself or have a crisis. So I subscribe metaphorically to the notion of taking up a new instrument every few years, yes!

  2. ruZL said

    Nic, the new zouk looks fantastic. i got some idea of the sound when u played it over the phone but look forward to hearing it on the album. it’s been a while since i bought a different instrument – maybe i’ll put in an order for a zouk, to pick up when we’re in S.A. next year. what a gorgeous shape it is. thanks Blue States for the inspiration. R.

  3. Dirk said

    I recently bought a Zouk. I also play mandolin and guitar… Great instruments… all of them. I have no favorites amongst them and I’ll probably add a mandola to the collection in the future….

    Good luck with your Zouk!


  4. nic paton said

    Hi Dirk
    Just wanted to know how you were doing with your Zouk. Its been an inspiration for me, there is a swathe of new ideas coming out. Ballads, Lute like Elizabethan tunes, some blues, too, which is very unusual for me! So far, nothing really Irish – how strange.

    I’ve ordered a Madola from Dave Shapiro, so watch this space.

  5. Aw, I see, I thought you were complaining about the Bazouki player. Now, tell me, does this blog or does it not have anything to say about cheese at all?

  6. Nic Paton said

    Links between the bouzouki and cheeze are just an urban myth.

    And in this myth, the offending musicians are Greek, not Irish.

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