The lewah experience involves both song and dance together, and is not authentic unless both are happening simultaneously. More specifically, it is a ceremony that is performed during Dan (wedding festivities), Maldi (the festival commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), Id (a general term for weddings and festivals on Friday), festivals marking the end of Ramadan, and more recently for political rallies and recreation sometimes supported by government funds. It is difficult to pinpoint how much of it is rooted in African or Arab tradition.

In most subcategories of the lewah experience, the same instruments are used. Lewah instruments are played exclusively by men, even in instances where the ceremony can be described as a female gathering. The main instrument is the mizmar or surinay, a flared conical wind instrument with 4-5 holes in the front and one in back, played by blowing into a large double-reed. The next instrument of importance is the msondo, a large standing drum that is of admitted African origin. Next are two cylindrical drums of varying size, each with two skins. The larger is called tabl and the smaller is djagenga. As it is common in areas where materials for the traditional drums are not available or affordable, the tabl can be simply a barrel with a skin tied over the top. Tabl and djagenga players use hand and stick to beat the double skins and play both predetermined rhythms as well as improvisations. Other variations of these double-headed drums are the murwas(smaller) and kaser (medium sized).

Sometimes the use of a petrol can dented into a “V” shape as a drum beaten with sticks further proves that available materials may take precedence over tradition. The last instruments are the practitioners themselves; clapping, swaying, hitting traditional walking sticks on the ground, foot stomping, and singing all add extra dimensions to the rhythm of lewah music.


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