Other west African instruments, like balafon, ngoni etc.
By Kaitaro
I am heading to Burkina in May for few months to learn Djembe, Duns, and Bala. My question is regarding Burkina bala tuning. My bala is from Guinea via Drumskull and its in C, diatonic. Its great and I love it. From my youtube research, Burkina bala seems to be in Pentatonic or at least 5 sounds in a octave (hope I am making myself clear here, diatonic being 7 sounds in a octave). My teacher used to own a Burkina bala and he said it tuned to other "planet", it was not tuned according to Western scale. I am aware that even in Guinea, tuning can be varied village to village traditionally, however musicians in urban areas have adapted Western scale, mainly C major. Has that not happened in Burkina?


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By Michel
No i'm afraid not. Most Burkinabe players play the bala tuned in pentatonic scale, like in Mali. Sometimes they make the combination with a diatonic one. Like that they can play the bala like a piano, with the pentatonic one used as the black keys of the piano. Look for Ali Keita for an example of this playing.
The said to be original bala tuning is the guinean diatonic one. When you hear music from Mali, you can hear it's almost all in the pentatonic scale (the blues scale, that's where the blues comes from!)
By the way 5 sounds can never be an octave. Octo means 8 (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do=8 sounds).

Have fun in Burkina!
By Paul

You will find diatonic players also. How the bala is tuned is depending on the region and the village, pentatonic bala will be made in pairs and in the village they will be made by ear to the master players bala. If you want a western pitch bala and you are in Bobo go to Baragnouma (penta or diatonic). Otherwise make sure you buy a pair (penta).

A common scale is g-f-d-c-a however this is often done at a higher pitch, perhaps 450hz. My kamele ngoni teacher had it in gedca but to 450. I tuned it down to 440 to play with guitarists and such and it kinda lost its soul.

I would expect to get the most exposure to penta bala, so when in rome. Where you going exactly?
By Kaitaro
Thanks to Michel and Paul for precious info.

I am going to Bobo and studying with a griot family called Diarra. I just checked out Baragnouma, like their products a lot. Surprised to find chromatic bala. Thanks.