By Ashley Evans, 17, Fairfax HS
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An array of musical instruments used in Africa are on display at the "Music for the Eyes" exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). As I entered the Boone’s Children’s Gallery, at the museum’s annex on the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire, the instruments on display amazed me. You can actually play some of the African instruments in the exhibit. I thought that was very cool because at other museums you are always looking but not touching the art exhibits.

The first thing I saw was the strings group. African people played the harp, lute and an instrument called the zither when they told tales of their family’s history. I picked up a four-stringed harp that had a large base. When I plucked the strings, it sounded like a banjo. I wasn’t very good at it.

Disappointed, I moved on to the winds (often called the aerophones) group, which includes the trumpet, flute and oliphant. The oliphant is made out of ivory and it makes a loud sound when you blow into it. It is a symbol of leadership because its loud sound grabs your attention. Traditionally, African people believed the winds instruments could talk to gods and ancestral beings. I didn’t see any wind instruments to play with, maybe because it would have been unsanitary.

Next, I entered the skins group which mainly involves the drums. I played a thin, short drum whose surface was made out of actual animal skin. I thought I had absolutely no rhythm because my hands weren’t in sync with my mind. Frustrated, I just got up and left. However, a video on Baga women drummers caught my attention. The women danced and sang songs of their tribe and dressed up in traditional African wrap dresses for the occasion. Also on the video was a Mende Bee performance. A man was wearing a Mende Bee costume—extravagant colors with a large head and with very short and thin wings attached to his shoulder blades—and he danced by swaying side to side, walking in large steps. I admired his dance, although it was something I had never seen before.

I moved on to the aerophones section, which had a round table filled with instruments that I could play with. I first played the rasp, which made a sound when I scraped the stick back and forth across the surface of the instrument. I thought the rasp made an annoying sound when I played it. I picked up the rattle, an instrument that produces a rattling noise when I shook it. I thought it was easier to play because it took less brainpower to produce a rhythm. I found out that rattlers are the most common instruments used when dancing. Finally in this section, I played an African xylophone made out of wood and string. I was surprised that it sounded similar to a metal xylophone. I was pretty good at it and it lifted my spirits up from last playing the drums.

Throughout the exhibit, I noticed that the instruments were not dated. The only thing to identify them were the tribes that made them and the materials that were used to build them. These instruments may be hundreds of years old, but no one knows.

I personally liked the "Music for the Eyes" exhibit because it made me think of my African-American heritage. I got wrapped up thinking of the possibility that the makers of these instruments could have been my ancestors. I probably will never know but it was cool to have a chance to experience this.