The 19th century European traders brought metal Jaw’s Harps to Africa. In South Africa, the instrument became popular with traditional African musicians because of its affordability and portability. In isiXhosa the Jaw’s Harp became known as isitolotolo, a name derived from the word setolotolo which is a type of braced mouth bow played (by plucking) by the people of Lesotho, neighbours of the Xhosa.

In the Eastern Cape, isitolotolo players use a specialised technique developed by Xhosa umrhubhe mouth-bow players who perform while simultaneously whistling.

The resonating overtones of the instrument are created by shaping the mouth in a similar way to mouth-bow technique, and so indigenous people easily adapted to the European Jaw’s Harps (Dargie, 2008).

There are a growing number of Indigenous African music practitioners who play isitolotolo today, both old and young, namely Madosini, Mantombi Matotiyana, Madala Kunene, Mpho Molikeng, Mabeleng Moholo, Mosoeu Ketlele, Zanele Ndlovu, Matlali Kheoana and Ernie Koela to name a few.

A short clip of Mantombi playing isitolotolo can be seen at 


Dargie, D., 2008. Ruwenge: The discovery of an African Jew’s Harp constructed with a frame. South African Music Studies, Vol. 28, 119 – 134.