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The Balafon Musical Instrument
Culture & Traditions   Music   Traditional   See also Kora   Xalam       
BalafonThe Balafon (Balafong, Balaphone) is a kind of wooden xylophone or percussion idiophone which plays melodic tunes and usually has between 16 to 27 keys which has been played in the region since the 1300s and originated in Mali according to the Manding history narrated by the griots.

They call it "a gift from the devil" to the Kuyateh families. This was the period under the Manding Empire's founder Sunjata Keita and his Sosso rival Soumaoro Kante who was said to have been given by Balafon by spirits. The instrument, as well as the Karanyango (bell), was incorporated into the musical ensemble of the griots to accompany the Kora.

The tuning process is related to the language that is peculiar to each ethnic group or to the scales of their songs. Many variations are to be found within each tribal group.

The slats are generally made from a hardwood, and are carefully dried over a low intensity fire to achieve their deep resonance. The ends of each slat are burnt black with an iron to seal them. After the rough cut, it is necessary to fine-tune the keys to the desired pitches. The fine-tuning of the keys is accomplished by thinning the centre to lower the key's pitch and by thinning the ends to raise the pitch.


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