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Djembe with Balafon question. - Djembefola - Djembe Forum

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  • 10 posts
User avatar
By Nodrog
#5304
Hi there,

I have a question regarding the authenticity of a balafon and djembe pairing. I have recently become the proud owner of a djembe which I am very pleased with. Another person really happy with it is my 4 year old grandson who has a birthday coming up next month. Course, my first thought was to buy him a djembe but a smaller version, (mine has a 15" head and is about 26" tall).

However, after some dwelling time on this, I'm wondering if a medium size balafon might be a more suitable gift for someone his age. He could bring it with him on his visits and we could have junior jam sessions and attempt some African tunes instead of us both being drummers. Anyone have experience of kids around this age getting into African music. I'm also thinking that the playing of a balafon might be kinder on his hands until he gets a little older and maybe a little easier for his parents to listen to, Ha, Ha...

Anyway, I was curious about these two instruments being played together, is it a common thing or are they never played together traditionally. I know there's no rules really but I'm just curious to know.

Thanks, Gordon.
By BobF
#5305
My 6 yr old has a 12 key bala and a small djembe (roughly 10" head), the djembe hardly ever gets played but he plays the bala pretty frequently. So far he's got an accompaniment for Djole and Yankadi down(excuse the father's pride there :D ).

As far as both being played together, happens a lot but not enough IMO. I play way more bala than djembe so I might be a bit biased. I would love it if more groups added the bala.
User avatar
By bops
#5309
Hi guys,

I would start by saying that "authenticity" doesn't really exist; it's a chimera. Or, it's rampant. In either case, it isn't a suitable term to describe music or culture, because those things are organic. They are continually evolving and changing over time, and no one can really say what the "original" looked or sounded like at all. Jembe is a chapter that's still being written. That's just a side note.

With regards to your question: The short answer is that this is a very, very common pairing. Especially in the last 20 or 30 years, in the urban centers. Ballet-style jembe music almost always has a bala.

In the past, or in a more rural setting, they would be kept somewhat more separate. The bala is a jeli instrument, and the jembe is not. There are repertories for the bala - the Sunjata epic, for example - that do not include jembe at all. Bala rhythms such as Yokui and Yankadi have been adapted for jembe and dunun.
By bubudi
#5310
djembe and bala are a very common grouping in west africa as everyone so far has mentioned, and also an excellent combination. a lot of djembefolas also play bala, and vice versa. find yourself someone to take some private bala lessons from and then teach your grandson what you've learned. you could also take lessons together, but then you'll soon find your grandson teaching you! he's not too young for djembe though. he's not going to hit as hard or practice for the same amount of time as an adult, so he probably won't hurt his hands. djembe or bala, he's going to enjoy making music.
User avatar
By Nodrog
#5314
A good Wednesday morn to all,

Thanks for the replies so far. I'm guessing the word 'bala' is just a shortened version of balafon or even balaphone as I've also seen it written. At the moment I'm leaning a little more to the balafon as at least this is a chance to get a little melody into the jams. My little grandson also has a younger sister who might be the one to receive a junior size djembe on her next birthday. Of course there would have to be an agreement that we could all take turns and swap around. I know the way most children's minds work, whichever one is given the drum, they are bound to prefer the balfon instead. All part of family fun I guess.
Just out of interest, how are the balafons tuned? Is it like a European xylaphone or is it a different African tuning.

Thanks for the info, Gordon.
By BobF
#5315
Balafon/balaphone originally was a misinterpretation of balafo which means make the bala talk or play the bala. Example "Gordon, balafo" and Gordon would walk over and start playing the bala.

most of the West Africans I've met now refer to it as a balafon/balaphone since that's what most people know it as.

The tuning depends on where it's from, my bala is from Guinea and is diatonic, tuned to C. I've also heard balas from Guinea tuned to F. I'm not real familiar with traditionally tuned balas but the recordings I have of them, they sound like they don't really fall under a specific "western" scale, for more info this you could check out Lynn Jessup's book Mandinka Balafon.

I think it's awesome you're pursuing this with your grandkids!!!
Bob
User avatar
By Carl
#5316
The bala traditionally used a pure "heptatonic" tuning. It's a little complicated, but if you take an octave, and divide it into 7 equal steps you get a 7 note scale that is close to, but never matches our "diatonic" scale (7 notes to the octave, but they are not equally spread out).

For a good read:

http://tcd.[spam removed].net/djembemande/bala.html

The modern bala is often tuned to a diatonic scale to match western instruments. Keletigui Diabate plays 2 balas tuned to diatonic scales 1/2 step apart. This allows him to play in any western key! (basically one bala would be the white notes on a piano, the other bala would be the black keys (plus duplicated notes))

Ok... this is starting to get complicated....

:-)

carl
User avatar
By Nodrog
#5319
Hi there,

Well, this is all very interesting. Sounds a little like harmonica players who need to carry a collection around to play in different keys as opposed to the fully chromatic harmonica that I believe with a little adjusting as you play can hit all keys.

This has been useful because I would prefer to buy one so that a guitar could play along too. This sounds like I need a diatonic tuning maybe in the key of C. This means I could jam along with my keyboard as well. Most of what I play on there happens to be in C anyway.

Thanks again, Gordon.
By bubudi
#5320
Nodrog wrote:Thanks for the replies so far. I'm guessing the word 'bala' is just a shortened version of balafon or even balaphone as I've also seen it written.
Just out of interest, how are the balafons tuned? Is it like a European xylaphone or is it a different African tuning.
we had a good thread on the bala a while back which answers both questions:
other-instruments/balafon-t15.html
User avatar
By Nodrog
#5322
Thanks Bubudi for that link.

Those videos of the left and right parts being seperated will be very useful when I get one. In fact, I like the sound so much I may well buy a larger one for myself later on. First though, I have to think of my grandson's birthday.

Again, thanks for the help. Gordon.
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