African Blackwood Conservation
African Blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon), also called grenadilla, or mpingo (Swahili), is a hardwood native to eastern Africa. It has unique physical and acoustic properties that make it an excellent wood for musical instruments, and for years it has been the wood out of which we make the majority of our flutes. Over the years, we have experimented with other species of wood with varying results and find that while some other species have good properties, few compare to blackwood for the right balance of tone, ease of work, and durability.
The African Blackwood Conservation Project (ABCP) states, "Although there is historical indication that the species was once quite widespread geographically, in modern times it is only available in commercial quantities in southeastern Tanzania and northern Mozambique. Although it is listed as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this assessment has not been updated since 1998, and its current users think its conservation status may be far more precarious than this designation would indicate."
While over-harvesting of slow-growing hardwoods is an ongoing concern, its worth noting that blackwood—because it grows in open savannah rather than rainforest—is not generally as destructive to harvest as rainforest woods, as cutting it does not result in large swaths of forest being clearcut. Additionally, the percentage of blackwood used to make musical instruments is comparatively small (ABCP estimates that instruments represent about 4.5% of the global demand for African blackwood, with the rest going to furniture, construction, and other industries). There is a very good article on ABCP's website with background and history of the use of blackwood in musical instruments. Here at Olwell Flutes, we donate money to the African Blackwood Conservation project and encourage our customers to do the same. If you would like to make a donation, please visit www.blackwoodconservation.org/donate/.