Book Review: Music, Language, and the Brain (Krar)

The next instrument Patel introduces is the krar or “krar speech”. So, first let’s take a look at what Patel says, and then we’ll take a look at where this instrument originates.

krar 1

The researcher who studied this language, Dr. Wedekind, explains, like the krar, Benc’non is “a tone language with five levels and a glide”. The language sounds like a whistle as you’ll see below.

From Wikicommons
krar 2
from (modified by me)

If we think of the shape of Ethiopia as the twitter bird turned the other way, think of southwest Ethiopia being the chest or the tummy of the twitter bird. Right in that white patch, you would find a tribe of people, the Gimira, who use “krar speech” or the Bench language to communicate! While not much is known about the Gimira people, we do know that they let their elders or the oldest people in the community decide what is right and wrong based on their understanding of their culture. Such a system can work when there aren’t very many people, but could you imagine having the oldest people in the United States doing the same thing? Think about all the different people there are in the United States. Some have been here for a very long time, and others for a very short time. We have all different kinds of religions and all different kinds of ideas of what is good and bad. For the Gimira people, they’re pretty similar in how they live and in what they believe. They’ve stayed together in the southwest area of Ethiopia for a very long time. In what ways do you think the Gimira government works best? In what ways do you think the Gimira government wouldn’t work?

Below is one video of the Krar. The music is popular beyond Ethiopia. In fact there is a group called the Krar Collective which uses many instruments native to African tribes in the region.

If you’d like to learn more about the Krar or how to play it, check out this link! If you would explore the language of the southwestern Ethiopian people including a description of its 28 consonants and 5 vowels, I highly recommend looking for A Six-Tone Language in Ethiopia: Tonal Analysis of Benčnon (Gimira) by Klaus Wedekind. This article was published in 1983 in the Journal of Ethiopian Studies. You can find the article in JSTOR.

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