The banjo is a four-, five- or (occasionally) six-stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity as a resonator, called the head. The membrane, or head, is typically made of plastic, although animal skin is still occasionally but rarely used, and the frame is typically circular. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by Africans in America, adapted from African instruments of similar design.〔(Bluegrass Music: The Roots )." IBMA. Retrieved on 2006-08-25.〕
The banjo is frequently associated with country, folk, Irish traditional and bluegrass music. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African American traditional music, before becoming popular in the minstrel shows of the 19th century.〔Winship, David.("The African American Music Tradition in Country Music )." BCMA, Birthplace of Country Music Alliance. Retrieved 02-08-2007. .
〕〔("Old-time (oldtimey) Music What is it? )." TML, A Traditional Music Library. Retrieved 02-08-2007.〕 The banjo, with the fiddle, is a mainstay of American old-time music.
== History ==
There are several theories concerning the origin of the name ''banjo''. It may derive from the Kimbundu term ''mbanza''.〔http://www.thebanjoguru.com/music/276-how-did-banjos-get-their-name/〕 Some etymologists believe it comes from a dialectal pronunciation of the Portuguese "bandore" or from an early anglicisation of the Spanish word ''bandurria'', though other research suggests that it may come from a West African term for a bamboo stick formerly used for the instrument's neck.
Various instruments in Africa, chief among them the kora, feature a skin head and gourd (or similar shell) body.〔Pestcoe, Shlomoe and Adams, Greg C., ''Banjo Roots Research: Exploring the Banjo’s African American Origins & West African Heritage'', 2010. Essay can be found online at ().〕 The African instruments differ from early African American banjos in that the necks do not possess a Western-style fingerboard and tuning pegs, instead having stick necks, with strings attached to the neck with loops for tuning.〔 Banjos with fingerboards and tuning pegs are known from the Caribbean as early as the 17th century.〔 18th- and early 19th-century writers transcribed the name of these instruments variously as ''bangie'', ''banza'', ''banjer'', and ''banjar''. Instruments similar to the banjo (e.g., the Japanese ''shamisen'', Persian ''tar'', and Moroccan ''sintir'') have been played in many countries. Another likely banjo ancestor is the ''akonting'', a spike folk lute played by the Jola tribe of Senegambia, and the ''ubaw-akwala'' of the Igbo. Similar instruments include the ''xalam'' of Senegal and the ''ngoni'' of the Wassoulou region including parts of Mali, Guinea, and Ivory Coast, as well as a larger variation of the ''ngoni'' developed in Morocco by sub-Saharan Africans known as the ''gimbri''.
Early, African-influenced banjos were built around a gourd body and a wooden stick neck. These instruments had varying numbers of strings, though often including some form of drone. The five-string banjo was popularized by Joel Walker Sweeney, an American minstrel performer from Appomattox Court House, Virginia.〔Metro Voloshin, ''The Banjo, from Its Roots to the Ragtime Era: An Essay and Bibliography'' Music Reference Services Quarterly, Vol. 6(3) 1998.〕
In the 1830s Sweeney became the first white performer to play the banjo on stage.〔 His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth string. This new banjo was at first tuned d'Gdf♯a, though by the 1890s this had been transposed up to g'cgbd'. Banjos were introduced in Britain by Sweeney's group, the American Virginia Minstrels, in the 1840s, and became very popular in music halls.〔(Information on the banjo and development of the Zither-banjo ).〕
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