Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, Malian culture) by Rob on 16-02-2010

The balafon is a bit like a xylophone or marimba and is played in many parts of West Africa, including Mali.

I was recently in Southern Mali, working with the Jo people and had the privilege of recording the instrument you see above. Underneath the wooden bars hang several gourds; these serve as resonators to amplify the sound of the instrument. Ingenious!

Here’s what it sounded like:

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Great sound and a lovely instrument! However, it may come as a surprise to you if I tell you that this is by no means an indigenous instrument for the Jo people. What you see here is the kind of balafon played by the Bambara. The Jo have their own balafon, known as the saba, but for the time being, churches are not playing it – maybe one day…

Time for a lesson from one of our timeless pioneers in the field of ethnodoxology: Roberta King, who worked with the Nyarafolo (Senufo) in northern Cote d’Ivoire and successfully reclaimed their balafon. The local folks decided to use only their local percussion instruments because (she says):

“They claimed this provided a truly indigenous sound and an authentic rhythm that fit the message of their song […] Such a sophisticated development came only after many years of working together toward worship songs that would speak meaningfully to them.”

Wow! So there’s hope for me yet then! Download and read Roberta’s full article here – it’s very interesting.

2 Comments posted on "About the Balafon"
Clive on February 28th, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

I’ve enjoyed the info about the instruments but am DESPERATE to know what the building is and why you seem to be stood looking as if you don’t want to go in it?!
Love the ‘Name That Tune’ game,

Rob on March 2nd, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

No – it’s not a loo, Clive, just a random village hut! The loo was, however, just a hole in the ground (I tend to try and avoid ‘big jobs’ at night time, as village loos tend to get full of cockroaches then!!)