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The banjo is a stringed instrument with, typically, four or five strings, which vibrate a membrane of plastic material or animal hide stretched over a circular frame. Simpler forms of the instrument were fashioned by enslaved Africans in Colonial America, adapted from several African instruments of the same basic design.[1] There are several ideas on where the name banjo came from. It may derive from the Kimbundu term mbanza. Some etymologists believe it comes from a dialectal pronunciation of the Portuguese "bandore" or from an early anglicisation of the Spanish word "bandurria", though other research suggests that it may come from a Senegambian term for a bamboo stick formerly used for the instrument's neck.[citation needed]



Enslaved Africans, living in Appalachia, fashioned gourd-bodied instruments like those they knew in Africa. 18th and early 19th century writers transcribed the name of these instruments variously as bangie, banza, banjer and banjar. Instruments similar to the banjo (e.g., the Japanese shamisen, Persian tar and Morroccon Sintir) have been played in many countries. Another likely ancestor of the banjo is the akonting, a spike folk lute played by the Jola tribe of Senegambia and the 'ubaw-akwala' of the Igbo.[2] Similar instruments include the xalam of Senegal and the ngoni of the Wassoulou region including parts of Mali, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast.[citation needed] The modern banjo was popularized by the American minstrel performer Joel Sweeney in the 1830s. Banjos were introduced in Britain in the 1840s by Sweeney's group, the American Virginia Minstrels, and became very popular in music halls.[3]

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