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The origins of the banjo are from Africa and there is a very close connection between banjos and the African drum. The banjo, in it’s simplest form is a drum with strings tensioned across the drum head resting on a bridge that are attached to a neck. This type instrument with a little enginuity could be made from the basic materials of wood and skin. Guitars and other fretted instruments were far to complex and modern to build at home.
When it arrived in the US via the slave trade it began a humble life in the rural parts of America on cotton plantations and farms where the dirt poor local labour force would have been introduced to this new and fascinating sound. They combined this new instrument with their European import and these two partners became the dominant music in the rural farm states. It was slowly modified and with the industrial revolution beingin full swing and by the mid 1800’s banjos started to be made commercially. In the early 1900’s banjo design hit it’s peak and with the birth of Jazz it was the only stringed instrument that could compete with the volume of a typical jazz ensemble consisting of trumpet, saxaphone etc. Remember, the electric guitar had not been invented.
The banjo story does continue and eventurely it finds a permanent place in the Old Time, Bluegrass and Folk traditions of today.