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The balafon (, ) is a
gourd Gourds include the fruits of some flowering plant Flowering plants include multiple members of the clade Angiospermae (), commonly called angiosperms. The term "angiosperm" is derived from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Gre ...

gourd
-resonated
xylophone The xylophone (from the Ancient Greek language, Ancient Greek words —, "wood" + —, "sound, voice", literally meaning "sound of wood") is a musical instrument in the percussion family that consists of wooden bars struck by Percussion mallet, ...

xylophone
, a type of
struck idiophoneStruck idiophones is one of the categories of idiophone An idiophone is any musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make Music, musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a m ...
. It is closely associated with the neighbouring Mandé,
Senoufo The Senufo people, also known as Siena, Senefo, Sene, Senoufo, and Syénambélé, are a West Africa, West African ethnolinguistic group. They consist of diverse subgroups living in a region spanning the northern Ivory Coast, the southeastern Mali ...
and
Gur peoples
Gur peoples
of West Africa, particularly the
Guinea Guinea (), officially the Republic of Guinea (french: link=no, République de Guinée), is a coastal country in West Africa. Guinea borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the no ...

Guinea
n branch of the
MandinkaMandinka, Mandika, Mandinkha, Mandinko, or Mandingo may refer to: * Mandingo (film), ''Mandingo'' (film), a 1975 film based on the eponymous 1957 novel * Mandingo (novel), ''Mandingo'' (novel), a bestselling novel published in 1957 * ''Mandingo (pla ...
ethnic group, but is now found across
West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania ...

West Africa
from Guinea to
Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢𞥄𞤲𞤣𞤭 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤤𞤭, Renndaandi Maali, ar, جمهورية م ...

Mali
. Its common name, ''balafon'', is likely a European coinage combining its
MandinkaMandinka, Mandika, Mandinkha, Mandinko, or Mandingo may refer to: * Mandingo (film), ''Mandingo'' (film), a 1975 film based on the eponymous 1957 novel * Mandingo (novel), ''Mandingo'' (novel), a bestselling novel published in 1957 * ''Mandingo (pla ...
name ''bala'' with the word ''fôn'' 'to speak' or the Greek root ''phono''.


History

Believed to have been developed independently of the Southern African and South American instrument now called the
marimba The marimba () is a percussion instrument consisting of a set of wooden bars struck with yarn wrapped or rubber mallets to produce musical tones. Resonators or pipes are suspended underneath the bars to amplify the sound of the wooden bars. Th ...

marimba
, oral histories of the balafon date it to at least the rise of the
Mali Empire The Mali Empire ( Manding: ''Mandé''Ki-Zerbo, Joseph: ''UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. IV, Abridged Edition: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century'', p. 57. University of California Press, 1997. or Manden; ar, مالي, Mā ...
in the 12th century CE. Balafon is a Manding name, but variations exist across West Africa, including the ''balangi'' in
Sierra Leone Sierra Leone (, also , ), officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, informally Salone, is a country on the southwest coast of West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines Western Africa as the 17 co ...

Sierra Leone
and the
gyil The balafon (, ) is a gourd Gourds include the fruits of some flowering plant The flowering plants, also known as Angiospermae (), or Magnoliophyta (), are the most diverse group of Embryophyte, land plants, with 64 Order(biology), orders, ...
of the Dagara, Lobi and
Gurunsi The Gurunsi, or Grunshi, are a set of related ethnic groups inhabiting northern Ghana Ghana (), officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country in West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines West ...
from
Ghana Ghana (), officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country in West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and as well as .Paul R. ...

Ghana
,
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso (, ; ) is a landlocked country in West Africa that covers an area of around and is bordered by Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and the Ivory Coast to the southwe ...

Burkina Faso
and
Ivory Coast Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d'Ivoire, officially the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, is a country located on the south coast of West Africa. Côte d'Ivoire's political capital is Yamoussoukro in the centre of the country, while its largest ...
. Similar instruments are played in parts of
Central Africa Central Africa is a subregion A subregion is a part of a larger region In geography Geography (from Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhab ...

Central Africa
, with the ancient
Kingdom of Kongo Kingdom may refer to: Monarchy * A type of monarchy A monarchy is a form of government in which a person, the monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. L ...
denoting the instrument as ''palaku''. Records of the balafon go back to at least the 12th century CE. In 1352 CE, Moroccan traveller
Ibn Battuta Ibn Battuta (; 24 February 13041368/1369); fully: ; Arabic: was a Berber Berber or Berbers may refer to: Culture * Berbers Berbers or ''Imazighen'' ( ber, translit=Imaziɣen, ⵉⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵏ, ⵎⵣⵗⵏ; singular: , ) are an e ...
reported the existence of the ngoni and balafon at the court of Malian ruler Mansa Suleiman. European visitors to West Africa described balafons in the 17th century largely identical to the modern instrument. The
Atlantic Slave Trade The Atlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, or Euro-American slave trade involved the transportation by slave traders of various enslaved African African(s) may refer to: * Anything from or pertaining to the continent of Africa: ** ...
brought some balafon players to the Americas. The ''Virginia Gazette'' records African-Americans playing a ''barrafoo'' in 1776, which appears to be a balafon. Other North American references to these instruments die out by the mid-19th century. The balafon has seen a resurgence since the 1980s in the growth of African and
World Music World music is an English phrase for styles of music from non-Western countries, including quasi-traditional, intercultural, and traditional music. World music's inclusive nature and elasticity as a musical category pose obstacles to a universa ...
. Most famous of these exponents is the
Rail Band The Rail Band is a Malian band formed in 1970; it was later known as Super Rail Band, Bamako Rail Band or, most comprehensively and formally, Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako. Its fame was built upon the mid-20th century craze ...
, led by
Salif Keita Salif Keïta () (born 25 August 1949) is an African singer-songwriter from Mali. He is notable not only because of his reputation as the "Golden Voice of Africa" but also because he has albinism. He is a member of the Keita dynasty, Keita royal f ...
. Even when not still played, its distinctive sound and traditional style has been exported to western instruments. Maninka from eastern
Guinea Guinea (), officially the Republic of Guinea (french: link=no, République de Guinée), is a coastal country in West Africa. Guinea borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the no ...

Guinea
play a type of
guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or Plucked string instrument, plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while sim ...

guitar
music that adapts balafon playing style to the imported instrument.


Etymology

In the
Malinké The Mandinka or Malinke are a West African ethnic group primarily found in southern Mali, the Gambia and eastern Guinea. Numbering about 11 million, they are the largest subgroup of the Mandé peoples and one of the List of ethnic groups of Afric ...
language ''balafon'' is a compound of two words: ''balan'' is the name of the instrument and ''fô'' is the verb ''to play''. Balafon therefore is really the act of ''playing the bala''. ''Bala'' still is used as the name of a large
bass Bass or Basses may refer to: Fish * Bass (fish) Bass () is a name shared by many species of fish Fish are Aquatic animal, aquatic, craniate, gill-bearing animals that lack Limb (anatomy), limbs with Digit (anatomy), digits. Included in thi ...
balafon in the region of
Kolokani Kolokani is a town of approximately 57,307 inhabitants in Mali's Koulikoro Region. It is the capital of the Cercle (Mali), Cercle of Kolokani, which consists of 10 rural communes (Didieni, Guihoyo, Kolokani, Massantola, Nonkon, Nossombougou, Ouolo ...

Kolokani
and
Bobo Dioulasso Bobo-Dioulasso is a city in Burkina Faso with a population of 903,887 (); it is the List of cities in Burkina Faso#10 largest cities, second largest city in the country, after Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso's capital. The name means "home of the Bobo-D ...
. These ''bala'' have especially long keys and huge calabashes for amplification. ''Balani'' is then used as the name of the high pitched, small balafon with small calabashes and short (3 to 4 cm long) keys. The ''balani'' is carried with a strap and usually has 21 keys, while the number of keys on a ''bala'' vary with region.


Construction

A balafon can be either ''fixed-key'' (where the keys are strung over a fixed frame, usually with
calabash Calabash (''Lagenaria siceraria''), also known as bottle gourd, white-flowered gourd, long melon, New Guinea bean and Tasmania bean, is a vine A vine (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a langua ...
resonators underneath) or ''free-key'' (where the keys are placed independently on any padded surface). The balafon usually has 17–21 keys, tuned to a tetratonic,
pentatonic A pentatonic scale is a musical scale Scale or scales may refer to: Mathematics * Scale (descriptive set theory)In the mathematical discipline of descriptive set theory, a scale is a certain kind of object defined on a set (mathematics), se ...
or
heptatonic A heptatonic scale is a musical scale Scale or scales may refer to: Mathematics * Scale (descriptive set theory)In the mathematical discipline of descriptive set theory, a scale is a certain kind of object defined on a set (mathematics), set of po ...
scale, depending on the culture of the musician. The balafon is generally capable of producing 18 to 21 notes, though some are built to produce many fewer notes (16, 12, 8 or even 6 and 7). Balafon keys are traditionally made from béné wood, dried slowly over a low flame, and then tuned by shaving off bits of wood from the underside of the keys. Wood is taken off the middle to flatten the key or the end to sharpen it. In a ''fixed-key'' balafon, the keys are suspended by leather straps just above a wooden frame, under which are hung graduated-size calabash
gourd Gourds include the fruits of some flowering plant Flowering plants include multiple members of the clade Angiospermae (), commonly called angiosperms. The term "angiosperm" is derived from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Gre ...

gourd
resonators. A small hole in each gourd is covered with a membrane traditionally of thin spider's-egg sac filaments (nowadays more usually of cigarette paper or thin plastic film) to produce the characteristic nasal-buzz
timbre In music, timbre ( ), also known as tone color or tone quality (from psychoacoustics Psychoacoustics is the branch of psychophysics Psychophysics quantitatively investigates the relationship between physical stimulus (physiology), stimuli a ...

timbre
of the instrument, which is usually played with two gum-rubber-wound mallets while seated on a low stool (or while standing using a shoulder or waist sling hooked to its frame).


Regional traditions

As the balafon cultures vary across West Africa, so does the approach to the instrument itself. In many areas the balafon is played alone in a ritual context, in others as part of an ensemble. In Guinea and Mali, the balafon is often part of an ensemble of three, pitched low, medium and high. In Cameroon, six balafon of varying size perform together in an orchestra, called a ''komenchang''. An
Igbo Igbo may refer to: * Igbo people, an ethnic group of Nigeria * Igbo language, their language * anything related to Igboland, a cultural region in Nigeria See also

* Ibo (disambiguation) * Igbo mythology * Igbo music * Igbo art * * Igbo-Ukwu, ...

Igbo
variation exists with only one large tuned key for each player. And while in most cases a single player hits multiple keys with two mallets, some traditions place two or more players at each keyboard. The Susu and
Malinké The Mandinka or Malinke are a West African ethnic group primarily found in southern Mali, the Gambia and eastern Guinea. Numbering about 11 million, they are the largest subgroup of the Mandé peoples and one of the List of ethnic groups of Afric ...
people of
Guinea Guinea (), officially the Republic of Guinea (french: link=no, République de Guinée), is a coastal country in West Africa. Guinea borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the no ...

Guinea
are closely identified with the balafon, as are the other Manding peoples of
Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢𞥄𞤲𞤣𞤭 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤤𞤭, Renndaandi Maali, ar, جمهورية م ...

Mali
,
Senegal Senegal (; french: link=no, Sénégal; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Senegaal''; Arabic language, Arabic: السنغال ''As-Sinighal''), officially the Republic of Senegal (french: link=no, République du Sénégal; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Réew ...

Senegal
, and
the Gambia The Gambia (), officially the Republic of The Gambia, is a country in West Africa. It is the smallest country within mainland AfricaHoare, Ben. (2002) ''The Kingfisher A-Z Encyclopedia'', Kingfisher Publications. p. 11. . and is surrounded by ...
.
Cameroon Cameroon (, french: Cameroun), officially the Republic of Cameroon (french: République du Cameroun, links=no), is a country in west 250px, A compass rose with west highlighted in black West or Occident is one of the four cardinal direc ...

Cameroon
,
Chad Chad (; ar, تشاد , ; french: Tchad, ), officially known as the Republic of Chad ( ar, جمهورية تْشَاد, link=no '; ), is a landlocked A landlocked country is a country that does not have territory connected to an oce ...

Chad
, and even the nations of the
Congo Basin The Congo Basin (french: Bassin du Congo) is the sedimentary basin Sedimentary basins are regions of the Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbor life. About 29% of Earth's surface ...
have long balafon traditions. Often, balafon players will wear belled bracelets on each wrist, accentuating the sound of the keys. In some cultures the balafon was (and in some still is) a sacred instrument, playable only by trained religious caste members and only at ritual events such as festivals, royal, funerial, or marriage celebrations. Here the balafon is kept in a temple storehouse, and can only be removed and played after undergoing purification rites. Specific instruments may be built to be only played for specific rituals and repertoires. Young adepts are trained not on the sacred instrument, but on ''free-key'' pit balafons.


Gyil

The ''gyil'' ( or ) is the name of a buzzing
pentatonic A pentatonic scale is a musical scale Scale or scales may refer to: Mathematics * Scale (descriptive set theory)In the mathematical discipline of descriptive set theory, a scale is a certain kind of object defined on a set (mathematics), se ...
balafon common to the -speaking populations in northern
Ghana Ghana (), officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country in West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and as well as .Paul R. ...

Ghana
,
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso (, ; ) is a landlocked country in West Africa that covers an area of around and is bordered by Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and the Ivory Coast to the southwe ...

Burkina Faso
, southeastern
Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢𞥄𞤲𞤣𞤭 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤤𞤭, Renndaandi Maali, ar, جمهورية م ...

Mali
and northern
Ivory Coast Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d'Ivoire, officially the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, is a country located on the south coast of West Africa. Côte d'Ivoire's political capital is Yamoussoukro in the centre of the country, while its largest ...
in
West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania ...

West Africa
. Among Mande populations in Ghana like the Ligbi (Numu), Bissa and Dyula, the same instrument is known as ''bala''. The gyil is the primary traditional instrument of the
Dagara people The Dagaaba people (singular Dagao, and, in northern dialects, for both plural and singular
, update as of 25 Ma ...
of northern Ghana and Burkina Faso, and of the Lobi of Ghana, southern Burkina Faso, and
Ivory Coast Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d'Ivoire, officially the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire, is a country located on the south coast of West Africa. Côte d'Ivoire's political capital is Yamoussoukro in the centre of the country, while its largest ...
. The gyil is usually played in pairs, accompanied by a calabash gourd drum called a ''kuor''. It can also be played by one person with the drum and the stick part as accompaniment, or by a soloist. Gyil duets are the traditional music of Dagara funerals. The instrument is generally played by men, who learn to play while young; however, there is no restriction on gender. It is also played by the
Gurunsi The Gurunsi, or Grunshi, are a set of related ethnic groups inhabiting northern Ghana Ghana (), officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country in West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of . The defines West ...
people of the
Upper East Region The Upper East Region is located in north Ghana and is the second smallest of 10 now 16 administrative regions in Ghana, occupying a total land surface of 8,842 square kilometers or 2.7 per cent of the total land area of Ghana. The Upper East reg ...
of Ghana, as well as neighbouring Gurunsi populations across the border in south and central Burkina Faso. A dance related to the gyil is the Bewaa. The gyil's design is similar to the ''balaba'' or balafon used by the -speaking
Bambara Bambara or Bambarra may refer to: * Bambara people, an ethnic group, primarily in Mali ** Bambara language, their language, a Manding language ** Bamana Empire, a state that flourished in present-day Mali (1640s–1861) * Bambara (beetle), ''Bambara ...
, Dyula and
Sosso The Sosso Empire was a twelfth-century Kirané Kaniaga, Kaniaga kingdom of West Africa. The Kingdom of Sosso, also written as Soso or Susu, was an ancient kingdom on the coast of west Africa. During its empire, reigned their most famous leader ...
peoples further west in southern
Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢𞥄𞤲𞤣𞤭 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤤𞤭, Renndaandi Maali, ar, جمهورية م ...

Mali
and western
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso (, ; ) is a landlocked country in West Africa that covers an area of around and is bordered by Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and the Ivory Coast to the southwe ...

Burkina Faso
, as well as the
Senoufo The Senufo people, also known as Siena, Senefo, Sene, Senoufo, and Syénambélé, are a West Africa, West African ethnolinguistic group. They consist of diverse subgroups living in a region spanning the northern Ivory Coast, the southeastern Mali ...

Senoufo
people of
Sikasso Sikasso ( Bambara: ߛߌߞߊߛߏ tr. Sikaso) is a city in the south of Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢 ...
, a region that shares many musical traditions with those of northern Ivory Coast and Ghana. It is made with 14 wooden keys of an African hardwood called
liga Liga or LIGA may refer to: People * Līga (name) Līga is a Latvian given name. Its nameday is on June 23, which is the Latvian festival day of Jāņi, Līgo. Persons *Līga Dekmeijere (born 1983), Latvian tennis player *Līga Glāzere (born 1 ...
attached to a wooden frame, below which hang
calabash Calabash (''Lagenaria siceraria''), also known as bottle gourd, white-flowered gourd, long melon, New Guinea bean and Tasmania bean, is a vine A vine (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a langua ...
gourds. Spider web silk covers small holes in the gourds to produce a buzzing sound and antelope sinew and leather are used for the fastenings. The instrument is played with rubber-headed wooden mallets.


Cameroon

During the 1950s, bars sprang up across Cameroon's capital to accommodate an influx of new inhabitants, and soon became a symbol for Cameroonian identity in the face of colonialism. Balafon orchestras, consisting of 3–5 balafons and various percussion instruments became common in these bars. Some of these orchestras, such as Richard Band de Zoetele, became quite popular in spite of scorn from the European elite. The middle of the 20th century saw the popularisation of a native
folk music Folk music is a music genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from ''musical form'' and musical style, althoug ...

folk music
called
bikutsi Bikutsi is a musical genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions. It is to be distinguished from ''musical form'' and musical style, although in pr ...
. Bikutsi is based on a war rhythm played with various
rattle Rattle may refer to: Instruments * Rattle (percussion instrument), a type of percussion instrument * Rattle (percussion beater), a part of some percussion instruments * Ratchet (instrument), a percussion instrument * Bird-scaring rattle, a S ...
s,
drum The drum is a member of the percussion A percussion instrument is a musical instrument A musical instrument is a device created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a ...

drum
s and balafon. Sung by women, bikutsi featured sexually explicit lyrics and songs about everyday problems. In a popularised form, bikutsi gained mainstream success in the 1950s.
Anne-Marie Nzie Anne-Marie Rose Nicholson (born 7 April 1991), known mononymously as Anne-Marie, is an English singer and songwriter. She has attained several charting singles on the UK Singles Chart, including Clean Bandit's "Rockabye (song), Rockabye", featu ...
was perhaps the most important of the early innovators. The next bikutsi performer of legendary stature was Messi Me Nkonda Martin and his band, Los Camaroes, who added
electric guitar An electric guitar is a guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the fu ...

electric guitar
s and other new elements. Balafon orchestras had remained popular throughout the 50s in Yaoundé's bar scene, but the audience demanded modernity and the popular style at the time was unable to cope. Messi Martin was a Cameroonian guitarist who had been inspired to learn the instrument by listening to
Spanish language Spanish ( or , ) is a Romance language The Romance languages, less commonly Latin or Neo-Latin languages, are the modern languages that evolved from Vulgar Latin Vulgar Latin, also known as Popular or Colloquial Latin is a range of inform ...

Spanish language
-broadcasts from neighboring
Equatorial Guinea Equatorial Guinea ( es, Guinea Ecuatorial; french: Guinée équatoriale; pt, Guiné Equatorial), officially the Republic of Equatorial Guinea ( es, link=no, República de Guinea Ecuatorial, french: link=no, République de Guinée équatoriale, ...

Equatorial Guinea
, as well as
Cuba Cuba ( , ), officially the Republic of Cuba ( es, República de Cuba, links=no ), is a country comprising the island of Cuba, as well as Isla de la Juventud Isla de la Juventud (; en, Isle of Youth) is the second-largest Cuban islan ...

Cuba
n and
Zaire Zaire (, ), officially the Republic of Zaire (french: République du Zaïre, link=no, ), was the name of a sovereign state between 1971 and 1997 in Central Africa Central Africa is a subregion A subregion is a part of a larger regio ...

Zaire
an
rumba The term rumba may refer to a variety of unrelated music styles. Originally, "rumba" was used as a synonym for "party" in northern Cuba Cuba ( , ), officially the Republic of Cuba ( es, República de Cuba, links=no ), is a country compri ...
. Messi changed the electric guitar by linking the strings together with pieces of paper, thus giving the instrument a damper tone that emitted a "thudding" sound similar to the balafon.


Guinea

The balafon,
kora Kora may refer to Places India * Kora, Bardhaman, West Bengal * Kora, Bharuch, Gujarat * Kora, Katihar, Bihar * Kora, Kendrapara, Odisha * Kora, Wardha, Maharastra * Kora, Tumakuru, Karnataka * Toyaguda, Adilabad, Telangana, formerly called Kora ...
(lute-harp), and the ngoni (the ancestor of the
banjo The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashio ...

banjo
) are the three instruments most associated with
griot A griot (; ; : jali or jeli (in : , ''djeli'' or ''djéli'' in French spelling); : kevel or kewel / okawul;. Regional Office for Education in Africa, ''Educafrica, Numéro 11'', (ed. Unesco, Regional Office for Education in Africa, 1984), p. ...

griot
bardic traditions of West Africa. Each is more closely associated with specific areas, communities, and traditions, though all are played together in ensembles throughout the region.
Guinea Guinea (), officially the Republic of Guinea (french: link=no, République de Guinée), is a coastal country in West Africa. Guinea borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the no ...

Guinea
has been the historic heartland of solo balafon. As griot culture is a hereditary caste, the Kouyaté family has been called the ''keepers of the balafon'', and twentieth century members of this family have helped introduce it throughout the world.


The Sosso Bala

The :Fr:Sosso Bala is a balafon, currently kept in the town of Niagassola,
Guinea Guinea (), officially the Republic of Guinea (french: link=no, République de Guinée), is a coastal country in West Africa. Guinea borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Guinea-Bissau to the northwest, Senegal to the north, Mali to the no ...

Guinea
that is reputed to be ''the'' original balafon, constructed over 800 years ago. The
Epic of Sundiata The ''Sundiata Keita'' or ''Epic of Sundiata'' (also referred to as the ''Sundiata Epic'' or ''Sunjata Epic'') is an epic poem of the Malinke people that tells the story of the hero Sundiata Keita (died 1255), the founder of the Mali Empire. Th ...
, a story of the formation of the
Mali Empire The Mali Empire ( Manding: ''Mandé''Ki-Zerbo, Joseph: ''UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. IV, Abridged Edition: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century'', p. 57. University of California Press, 1997. or Manden; ar, مالي, Mā ...
, tells that a
griot A griot (; ; : jali or jeli (in : , ''djeli'' or ''djéli'' in French spelling); : kevel or kewel / okawul;. Regional Office for Education in Africa, ''Educafrica, Numéro 11'', (ed. Unesco, Regional Office for Education in Africa, 1984), p. ...

griot
(praise-singer) named Bala Faséké Kouyaté convinced
Sosso The Sosso Empire was a twelfth-century Kirané Kaniaga, Kaniaga kingdom of West Africa. The Kingdom of Sosso, also written as Soso or Susu, was an ancient kingdom on the coast of west Africa. During its empire, reigned their most famous leader ...
king Sumanguru Kante to employ him after sneaking into Sumanguru's palace and playing the sacred instrument.
Sundiata Keita Sundiata Keita (MandinkaMandinka, Mandika, Mandinkha, Mandinko, or Mandingo may refer to: * Mandingo (film), ''Mandingo'' (film), a 1975 film based on the eponymous 1957 novel * Mandingo (novel), ''Mandingo'' (novel), a bestselling novel publis ...
, founder of the Mali Empire overthrew Sumanguru, seized the balafon, and made the griot Faséké its guardian. This honor is said to have passed down through his family, the Kouyatés, and conveys upon them mastership of the balafon to this day. Regardless of the truth of this story, the Sosso Bala is an instrument of great age, and was named by
UNESCO The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (french: Organisation des Nations unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture) is a specialised agency United Nations Specialized Agencies are autonomous orga ...

UNESCO
as one of the Nineteen
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity The Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity was made by the Director-General of UNESCO The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (french: Organisation des Nations unies ...
in 2001.


Senegal

The title of the
Senegal Senegal (; french: link=no, Sénégal; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Senegaal''; Arabic language, Arabic: السنغال ''As-Sinighal''), officially the Republic of Senegal (french: link=no, République du Sénégal; Wolof language, Wolof: ''Réew ...

Senegal
ese National Anthem is "
Pincez Tous vos Koras, Frappez les Balafons "" (), usually known as "" (), is the national anthem of Senegal. It was adopted in 1960. Development The lyrics were written by Léopold Sédar Senghor, who became Senegal's first president. The music is composed by the French composer , who a ...
" (''Everyone strum your
kora Kora may refer to Places India * Kora, Bardhaman, West Bengal * Kora, Bharuch, Gujarat * Kora, Katihar, Bihar * Kora, Kendrapara, Odisha * Kora, Wardha, Maharastra * Kora, Tumakuru, Karnataka * Toyaguda, Adilabad, Telangana, formerly called Kora ...
s, strike the balafons'').


Mali

A modern festival devoted to the balafon, the Triangle du balafon, now takes place annually at
Sikasso Sikasso ( Bambara: ߛߌߞߊߛߏ tr. Sikaso) is a city in the south of Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢 ...
in
Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢𞥄𞤲𞤣𞤭 𞤃𞤢𞥄𞤤𞤭, Renndaandi Maali, ar, جمهورية م ...

Mali
.Mali Ministry of Culture.
''Le Triangle du Balafon: Projet de Festival du Balafon, Troisieme Edition, Sikasso – 02 au 05 Novembre 2006'', (2006).


Famous players and ensembles

Famous balafon players have included: *
Richard Bona Richard Bona (born 28 October 1967) is a Cameroon Cameroon (, french: Cameroun), officially the Republic of Cameroon (french: République du Cameroun, links=no), is a country in West Africa, west-central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria ...

Richard Bona
, Cameroonian jazz musician * Abdou Karim Diabate "Tunkaraba" King of Balafon, from the village of Tabatto, Guinea-Bissau * Djiby Diabaté * Kélétigui Diabaté, playing for Habib Koité's ''Bamada'' group * Mamadou Diabaté (balafon player), Mamadou Diabate, Knight of the National Order of Burkina Faso (2016), Winner of the "Grand Prix" & "Prix de la Virtuosite de Festival Triangle du Balafon" in Mali (2012), Winner of the Austrian World Music Award (2011) * Lassana Diabaté, Malian musician known for work with Toumani Diabaté's ''Symmetric Orchestra'' and Afrocubism * Modibo Diabaté, from Mali * Zerika Djabate, Bissau-Guinean musician * Djiguiya, percussion band from
Burkina Faso Burkina Faso (, ; ) is a landlocked country in West Africa that covers an area of around and is bordered by Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and the Ivory Coast to the southwe ...

Burkina Faso
* Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo * Les Freres Coulibaly, Burkina-based balafon ensemble * Stefon Harris, American jazz musician * Dominic Howard of Muse (band), Muse used a balafon on the band's second album, ''Origin of Symmetry'' * Mory Kanté, early in his career * Aly Keita, Aly Keita and the Magic Balaphone, Malian balafon player * Gertrude Kilian, DVD "The Balafon with Aly Keita & Gert Kilian", "Balafon Beat" / Verlag Zimmermann * Lawrence Killian, American jazz musician * Mahama Konaté of John Cena, Burkina-based balafon ensemble * Balla Kouyate, from Mali/Guinea, whose father, Sekou "Filani" Kouyaté, is the current guardian of the Sosso Bala * Mamadi Kouyate, from Mali/Guinea, (Germany since 2015), whose grandfather Sékou "Filani" Kouyaté, is the current guardian of the Sosso Bala * El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyaté * N'Faly Kouyate of the Afro Celt Sound System * Adam Malik, Burkina-based balafon ensemble * Dave Mann (musician), Dave Mann, jazz percussionist, played with the Dave Brubeck, Dave Brubeck Group * Neba Solo (Senufo people, Senufo balafon group, led by Souleymane Traoré) from
Sikasso Sikasso ( Bambara: ߛߌߞߊߛߏ tr. Sikaso) is a city in the south of Mali Mali (; ), officially the Republic of Mali (french: République du Mali; bm, ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ, Mali ka Fasojamana, ff, 𞤈𞤫𞤲𞥆𞤣𞤢 ...
* Mama Ohandja, Cameroonian composer and performer to his country * Qasim, Burkina-based balafon ensemble * Pharoah Sanders, American jazz musician * Saramaya, Burkina-based balafon ensemble * Raheel Sharif, British band leader originally from Senegal * Bill Summers (jazz), Bill Summers, American jazz musician, performing with Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, and Los Hombres Calientes * Lonnie Liston Smith, American jazz musician * Rokia Traoré, Malian singer, guitarist, and band leader * Le Troupe Saaba, Burkina-based balafon ensemble * Momo Werner Wevers, German balafon player, plays solo and with the "Ensemble M.Pahiya" (balafon and classical guitar) * N'Camara Abou Sylla (Guinea; Les Ballets Africains)


See also

* Music of Guinea * Music of Mali * Marimba, covers the modern instrument which developed independently in both South America and southern Africa.


References


Sources

* "BALAFON BEAT" by Gert Kilian, edition Zimmermann / Germany http://www.gert-kilian.com/bb/index.html * "The Balafon with Aly Keita & Gert Kilian", edition "improductions" / Paris http://www.gert-kilian.com/DVDbalafon.html * "Das magische Balafon" by Mamadi Kouyaté, Ursula Branscheid-Kouyaté, http://www.djembe-kora.de/mamadi.html


Further reading

* Lynne Jessup. ''The Mandinka Balafon: an Introduction with Notation for Teaching''. Xylo Publications, (1983) . * Eric Charry. ''Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music of the Maninka and Mandinka of Western Africa''. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. University Of Chicago Press (2000). . * Adrian Egger, Moussa Hema: ''Die Stimme Des Balafon'' - La Voix Du Balafon. Schell Music, . * Gert Kilian "Balafon Beat", Verlag Zimmermann, Germany * Gert Kilian "The Balafon with Aly Keita & Gert Kilian", édition "improductions" / Paris * "Das magische Balafon" by Mamadi Kouyaté, Ursula Branscheid-Kouyaté / Germany / LEU-Verlag, Neusaess DVD


External links


Cora Connection: What is a balaphone?



''The Making of a Mofu-Gudur Balafon''
An article with photos and illustrations on the construction of a balafon in northern Cameroon. * http://www.djembe-kora.de/trommelbau.html a clip about the making of a balafon in Niagassola / Guinea {{Authority control West African musical instruments Stick percussion idiophones Melodic percussion Pitched percussion African percussion instruments Percussion instruments used in worship Burkinabé musical instruments Chadian musical instruments Gambian musical instruments Guinean musical instruments Malian musical instruments Senegalese musical instruments Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity Sacred musical instruments