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?