I was struck by the wealth of traditional Malagasy instruments and enchanted by a museum exhibition in our capital, Antananarivo. I could not resist a closer examination of these musical instruments that are so important to me culturally as well as historically.

From a young age, I would often attend musical events and as a result of my passion for them, I was particularly attracted by the category of chordophones or stringed instruments, especially the kabosa.

I had an opportunity to hear the kabosa being played during a performance organized by famous artists in a cultural venue. Its remarkable sound really amazed me. In addition, my good seat greatly added to my enjoyment. Historically, the kabosa was already known before the Christian era. It originally appeared in Assyria or Egypt and then spread throughout Asia as a result of the civilizing influence of Islamic immigrants. Its name "QÜBÜZ", meaning a short lute, is of Turkish origin. In Madagascar, it comes from the northwest and is called the kabosa. The instrument is used for a number of purposes: family celebrations, serenades by young people and as a pastime for workers. In cul Read More

I was struck by the wealth of traditional Malagasy instruments and enchanted by a museum exhibition in our capital, Antananarivo. I could not resist a closer examination of these musical instruments that are so important to me culturally as well as historically.

From a young age, I would often attend musical events and as a result of my passion for them, I was particularly attracted by the category of chordophones or stringed instruments, especially the kabosa.

I had an opportunity to hear the kabosa being played during a performance organized by famous artists in a cultural venue. Its remarkable sound really amazed me. In addition, my good seat greatly added to my enjoyment. Historically, the kabosa was already known before the Christian era. It originally appeared in Assyria or Egypt and then spread throughout Asia as a result of the civilizing influence of Islamic immigrants. Its name "QÜBÜZ", meaning a short lute, is of Turkish origin. In Madagascar, it comes from the northwest and is called the kabosa. The instrument is used for a number of purposes: family celebrations, serenades by young people and as a pastime for workers. In cultural terms, it was commonly played during sports activities in the southwest region of the island and was even used for ritual ceremonies. The kabosa is classified as a folk instrument and retains its authenticity because of its tone.

Technically, this kind of plucked stringed instrument is built somewhat like the lokanga bara. The soundbox is made from a single piece of wood, hollowed out in the middle. Its bottom, which may be flat or rounded, has an opening that allows sound vibrations to pass through it and amplifies them. From two to six strings are supported by a bridge. This instrument also includes a head and a tailpiece which is located at the lower end. It is short, averaging about 66 cm in length. Its light sound is obtained by picking the upper strings with a plectrum made of zebu horn. For a higher-pitched sound, the part of the string that is vibrating is strummed. Playing on two thirds of the string produces an even higher sound. The pitch depends on the size and tension of the string. This instrument is sometimes accompanied by singing. It is difficult to confirm who owned this object. Despite having no traditional music schools or ability to read music, kabosa players simply depend on their natural talent and inspiration to create or compose songs. This is unimportant since they will always belong to the family of instruments of our heritage. The kabosa was once somewhat neglected but it has become increasingly popular, enjoyed by a great many listeners and esteemed by a new generation. It is now quite common in variety shows and can be heard everywhere. Although this kabosa may be an object in a museum collection that has lain unused for some time, some talented players discovered it during a tour and , consequently, the instrument has now been restored to musical centres. It can even be heard played in the streets.


© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Kabosa (Lute)

Kabosa (lute)

Muslims countries

Museum of Art and Archeology of the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar
XIIth Century
Hardwood, metal string
70 x 7.5 cm
© Museum of Art and Archeology of the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar


The kabosa is a plucked stringed instrument or lute. It belongs to the family of chordophones.

Originally, the kabosa had a circular shape, first in turtle shell and then in wood. But shapes, materials and techniques have changed since then.

Today, a kabosa can have from five to six strings. It can have the shape of a small Spanish guitar, a mandolin or a rectangular lute. Sometimes kabosa makers use recycled material such as oil drums. Today the sisal strings can also be made from fishing line or steel.

The manufacturing technique as well as the context of playing has also changed: a popular instrument, played especially by young men, it accompanies songs, generally improvised, on topics that are critical of government, that satirize people chosen as the current "target", or that are about daily life.

The kabosa is used mainly in the mid-eastern region of Madagascar by the Tanala and Betsileo but it is played throughout Madagascar as well.

In what can be considered a sanctioning of this secular instrument, the kabosa can be seen at places of ancestor worship considered fady or sacred by the Malagasy.

The kabosa is a plucked stringed instrument or lute. It belongs to the family of chordophones.

Originally, the kabosa had a circular shape, first in turtle shell and then in wood. But shapes, materials and techniques have changed since then.

Today, a kabosa can have from five to six strings. It can have the shape of a small Spanish guitar, a mandolin or a rectangular lute. Sometimes kabosa makers use recycled material such as oil drums. Today the sisal strings can also be made from fishing line or steel.

The manufacturing technique as well as the context of playing has also changed: a popular instrument, played especially by young men, it accompanies songs, generally improvised, on topics that are critical of government, that satirize people chosen as the current "target", or that are about daily life.

The kabosa is used mainly in the mid-eastern region of Madagascar by the Tanala and Betsileo but it is played throughout Madagascar as well.

In what can be considered a sanctioning of this secular instrument, the kabosa can be seen at places of ancestor worship considered fady or sacred by the Malagasy.


© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Kabosa: Audio

Kabosa: Audio

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Centre des recherches et études andalouses, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, Musée de la musique, Laboratoire de recherche des musiques du monde, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Musée d'art et d'archéologie de l'Université d'Antananarivo, Musée ethnographique Alexandre Sènou Adande, Musée national du Mali, St. Boniface Museum, Lycée de langues étrangères Alexandre Dumas, Museum of the Romanian Peasant

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand that music is an expression in all cultures
  • Understand that the relationship between personal feelings and music transcends borders and cultures
  • Develop respect for music from a variety of cultural contexts
  • Examine traditional music practices in selected Francophone countries
  • Demonstrate geographical awareness by identifying Francophone countries
  • Be aware of the musical contributions of various cultural groups in their own community
  • Understand that all world music can be organized within a standard classification system

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans