Posted on



Kēlē is an indigenous musical instrument of the Ogoni people which is used by a traditional spirit manifest called “Naanu bira dee (Things of the Night)” a.k.a Gim (Dark)”. Kēlē is now performed mostly by the church, it migrated into Christianity and it is mostly used by the protestant churches located in the area.

Kēlē is originally a 10 instrument performed by 10 people, now some other instruments have been added to this ensemble which means number of players may increase, but in this article; we will have our focus on the original Kēlē ensemble instruments.

Kēlē is the name of one instrument in the ensemble, however, the whole ensemble is named by the instrument (Kēlē). It has another instrument called Kělě, but don’t confuse it with Kēlē (notice the “ē in Kēlē” and the “ě in Kělě, spelt the same but pronounced differently, that’s what it means). The date of its origin is unknown, however, the use of Kēlē can be traced from history of the Ogoni people. Because they have been able to keep the history of this instrument through oral/verbal narrative.

Kēlē is made up of 10 instruments namely: Pop Duu, Kem Duu, Nwin Duu, Pop Kēlē, Kem Kēlē, Pop Kpu, Kem Kpu, and Kělě. Kēlē is both melodic and percussive instrument. Even though the instrument is as old as the tribe and has suffered a great decline due to Western Colonial influence on the people, the use of Kēlē is still effective among the Ogoni people today. Kēlē plays a great role in the lives of the Ogoni people.

Kēlē has the following classes of musical instrument:

  • Membranophone – Pop Kēlē and Kem Kēlē.
  • Aerophone – Pop Duu, Kem Duu and Nwin Duu (hollows).
  • Idiophone – Pop Duu, Kem Duu and Nwin Duu (bodies), Kělě, Gila, Goń Gila, Pop Kpu and Kem Kpu.

Duu(s) fall into two families, the percussive and wind. It is a di-purpose and/or di-functional instrument.


  • KĒLĒ

Kēlē is a hollowed tree trunk covered with an animal skin at one end while the other end is left open and it is played with two bare hands (fingers and palms). This is the parent of the ensemble, the absent of it will cause a serious imbalance in the performance no wonder it is used as the name of the ensemble. In fact, without it, there is no Kēlē music. It is the fundamental aspect of the ensemble. Kēlē is divided into two, they are: Pop Kēlē and Kem Kēlē. These two instruments play an important role like the Father and Mother in the ensemble.

The Kem Kēlē is smaller than the Pop Kēlē in size. While the Pop Kēlē produces a deeper sound, the Kem Kēlē produces a lighter sound. The Kem Kēlē plays regular rhythms while the Pop Kēlē plays an irregular and improvised rhythm, that is, it can come in at any time it wishes, but must respond to the pulse and time of which the music is based. The Pop Kēlē serves as the father while Kem Kēlē serves as the mother, they both synchronize and produce inter-rhythms at various sections of the music. The instrument can majorly produce three different tones when you style your palm and hit the membrane with it as a method of playing it. However, some players can produce more different sounds when playing technically and skillfully. Kēlē can be represented on the staff as follows:

  • DUU

Duu is a cone-shaped hollow zinc with a handle attached to its body and it is played by blowing air into it and beating the body with a stick. It is a wind instrument played like a horn, because it has no removable or flexible reed or mouthpiece like the trumpets and saxophones respectively. Duu is divided into three parts they are: Pop Duu (Bass), Kem Duu (Tenor) and Nwin Duu (Alto). It has a special way of placing the mouth on the embouchure in order to produce sound. However, the sound production and compass (i.e. pitch range) of Duu depends on the player’s voice range, so there is no fixed pitch on the instrument. Two players can play one Duu on different pitches without going off because the shape of the instrument will force the sound to either be in a lower or higher tune. Writing for this instrument, use of treble clef will be employed for all three, though the Pop Duu plays a bass (root) part of the harmony, it will be represented on the staff on a lower octave treble clef. It has its own rule due to the way it is built or structured, that is; if the player of the Nwin Duu has a light (alto) voice, the player of Kem Duu must have a slightly deep (tenor) voice while the player of the Pop Duu must have a deeper (bass) voice respectively. They play a harmonized tone in the ensemble. Sometimes, other instruments accompanies the Duu, allowing Duu to play a melody or a music tune.

The body of Duu is played with sticks and it produces cross rhythms when the three are played together. You can play the lower, middle or higher part of the instrument to produce different pitches of percussive sounds. The three Duu(s) can play melodic scales in place of vocal music since they are both wind and percussive instruments. It can be represented on the staff as follows:

  • KPU

Kpu is a pot-shaped instrument made with clay. It is divided into two; they are, Pop Kpu and Kem Kpu. It is played with a beater covered with foam. Pop Kpu produces a bass sound and maintains the pulse of the music, it usually plays the strong beat of the music.

While the Kem kpu plays a stylized and improvised irregular rhythm without going off from the time of the music. Kpu can be represented on the staff as follows:

  • GILA

Gila plays an accompanying role in the ensemble. The bigger Gila is called Goń Gila while the smaller one is called Gila.

It can be represented on the staff as follows:

  • KĚLĚ

Kělě (a.k.a woodblock) is an essential part of the ensemble, it starts first before others can follow. It maintains and keeps the music in a steady time. Kělě repeatedly play a rhythm that suits the time of the music, and without the Kělě; there will be an imbalance in the time of the music.

However, in the Kēlē ensemble, the percussive part of Duu and Gila can play the Kělě roll in order to maintain a standard rhythm but they cannot replace the tone colour of Kělě. It produces two major sounds on both sides. It can be represented on the staff as follows:


Kēlē music is simply the music produced in the process of playing it as an ensemble. And/Or any music accompanied with its ensemble. It has been heavily influenced by Western Religion (Christianity), but it has in turn influenced so many music of the church. In comparison with the Western instrument, Kēlē motivates the Ogoni people to dance energetically than the Western instrument does (and a good exercised body is a healthy body).

The Ogoni people refer Kēlē music to “Kpaa Nyŏ:mah” meaning “Instrument of the Spirit” due to its influential and motivational ability on both its players and dancers. They believe that it calls spirits whenever it is performed.

It is a very unique ensemble among other ensembles. Kēlē music is usually fast and produces lots of “cross rhythms” interchangeably moving across the melodic and percussive production of sound from the instrument. The accompanying vocal music of Kēlē ensemble are usually short and repetitive that sometimes the singers observe a silence and sing the same music again. Though they may change the music at some point.

Kēlē can be performed with or without vocal music. When the ensemble is at its climax, the players usually accompanies it with vocables. Kēlē music is usually repetitive and demands a lot of energy when in action. Selected instruments of the Kēlē ensemble can accompany any African choral group (SATB) together with some Western instruments and provide a very good balance to the production of music.

You can find Kēlē and other Choral (SATB) and instrumental musical works here and download for free.

Example of Kēlē music is shown below. But in the score below, series of western instruments are added to the music below.

SOL ELA by Holiyo