Instrument maker Rex hits right note
Bressay man Rex Fernehaugh has built himself a full-sized West African-style kora, or harp-like instrument, after studying photographs and descriptions of the unusual device in old books.
Rex, who has visited or lived in 57 countries in his 77 years, adds the latest masterpiece to his homemade collection of smaller West African and other instruments.
Despite never having seen an authentic kora, Rex has faithfully recreated the instrument from a genuine dried African gourd topped with cowskin. The neck is rosewood and he has added fishing line, strimmer line and other assorted strings rather than traditional rope, which goes out of tune very easily. It has 21 fixed note strings and requires hand speed and dexterity to play and is said to take 25 years to play properly.
The kora, whose origins date back to before the 1600s, is also believed to be an instrument of the gods by the Senegal tribes. It is often played by griots – or mystical West African storytellers and musicians, who are attributed with super powers. One of the main kora exponents is Seckou Kaita, “the Hendrix of the kora” who played in Shetland in 2009, though Rex unfortunately missed his chance to meet him then.
He said: “I like the idea of making things rather than buying everything nowadays and this just came into my head because I got interested in drums and the rest followed on.”
Rex’s search for recycled materials takes him to beaches, second hand shops and the COPE scrap store where he got the wood for one of his instruments from an old organ. He has also made drums from fishing floats and a large drum made from a modified fibreglass marina float. The acoustics, he claims, are better with the modern materials than traditional cracked pottery drums.
He is busy making yet more African instruments at his home workshop at Glebe Park, where he lives with blind rescue dog Jock, but is rapidly running out of room. Luckily, his neighbours do not object to his musical hobby, which is just as well, for he reckons the big drum can be heard from Lerwick!
Full story in The Shetland Times. Video by Peter Johnson.