Kwakwaka'wakw music

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Kwakwaka'wakw music is the ancient art of the indigenous or Aboriginal Kwakwaka'wakw peoples. The music has stretched back thousands of years. The music is used primarily for ceremony and ritual, and is based on percussive instrumentation, especially log, box, and hide drums, as well as rattles and whistles.

The four-day Klasila festival is an important cultural display of song and dance; it occurs just before the advent of the tsetseka, or winter. A "song master" was often commissioned to invent and memorize songs for ceremonies. Unlike other social positions, the song master was not an inherited position, but chosen for his talent in creating and remembering songs.[1] Another very important festival for the Kwakwaka'wakw people is the potlatch.

Kwakwaka'wakw ensemble[edit]

The Kwakwaka'wakw people use a variety of different musical instruments in their specific performances of ceremony and dance; however, they do not have a melodic instrument in the sound-scape of their ensemble. Specifically, they use whistles with a variety of different pitches, sometimes combining several whistles together so that the player is able to produce up to three separate pitches without switching instruments. Beyond these whistles, the Kwakwaka'wakw do not have a melodic instrument as a part of their ensemble. Instead, they use singing in a variety of different pitches to express a melody.[2]

The most important instrument in the ceremony of the Kwakiutl rituals is the rattle. In his book Crooked Beak of Heaven, Bill Holm describes the sound of the rattle as being a "direct contact with the supernatural." [3]

Another instrument central to this music is the box drum. It is usually made from cedar, which has a spiritual significance for the Kwakwaka'wakw people (see Kwakwaka'wakw mythology). The drum is beaten by a large number of people, who also sing the song that they are drumming to.[4]


  1. ^ Hawthorn, A. (1988) pp. 41
  2. ^ Holm, B. (1972) pp. 24
  3. ^ Holm, B. (1972) pp. 26
  4. ^ Holm, B. (1972) pp. 25


  • Holm, Bill. (1972). Crooked Beak of Heaven. University of Washington Press.

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