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
founder Sunjata Keita and his Sosso rival Soumaoro Kante who was
said to have been given by Balafon by
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.