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Balafon

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9052000BalafonIn the Malinké language, balafon is a compound of two words : bala, meaning « the instrument », and fon, meaning, « to sound ». BalafonIn the Malinké language, balafon is a compound of two words : bala, meaning « the instrument »,...Zoom http://www.museum-lehavre.fr/sites/default/files/styles/exposition/public/multimedia/pb080954.jpg?itok=LyeZUrqP© Le Havre Museum of Natural History

Malian balafon

 

  • Origin : Bamako or San, on the banks of river Bani, Mali

  • Ethnic group : Mande

  • Date : 19th century

  • Materials : wood, calabashes, cotton, leather

  • Dimensions : 113 cm x 56 cm x 31.5 cm

  • Inventory number : 2008.4.371.1

  • Donated by General Archinard, August 1891 ; donated by M. Fossat, 1903

A balafon is a kind of wooden xylophone or percussion idiophone from the Mande culture, in West Africa. In the Malinké language, balafon is a compound of two words : bala, meaning « the instrument », and fon, meaning, « to sound ». 

Balafons are usually light enough to be carried by the balafon player, but some are quite monumental. In either case, they are always composed of wooden keys of various sizes - the shorter and thinner the keys, the higher the pitch of the sound - strung with leather straps over a fixed wooden frame, under which are hung calabash resonators. A small hole in each gourd is covered with a membrane traditionally of thin spider filaments or bat wings. Nowadays, the membranes are usually made of cigarette paper or thin plastic film.

The graduated size of the calabash resonators means the instrument is taller on one side.

 


Idiophone : A musical instrument which creates sound primarily by the instrument as a whole vibrating.

To learn more

Lynne JESSUP, The Mandinka balafon: an introduction with notation for teaching, La Mesa, CA, Xylo Publications, 1983.

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