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Daktari

'TUKU' music from Zimbabwe, Bala from Guinea

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Daktari    0

Hi there,

I love most types of music but my two main influences I would have to pick would be reggae, (especially Bob Marley and Gregory Isaacs), and more recently, African music. Now most folks have had some contact or are at least familiar with reggae music from Jamaica but less folks are familiar with the many different styles of African music.

Last year I bought myself a djembe drum from the Ivory Coast area and this got me into listening to traditional music from west Africa. This helped me discover the African xylophone of which there are many variations in size, tuning, sound, etc,etc. In some areas they are called bala and in other areas, gyil. Mine is a bala from Guinea. I decided I had to have one and just before Christmas placed an order with a family in Guinea who have been hand making these instruments for generations.

The problem was that the normal notes that the keys traditionally produced would not be very versatile as an instrument to accompany a western tuned guitar. The guy who I dealt with was very helpful and just said,"You will have 22 keys hand carved and toasted, just let us know what notes you need".

With this in mind I went for a diatonic tuning in Gmaj because that is my favourite key for playing African type guitar music.I should be able to play the chords G,C,D,Em, and Am. It should be arriving any day now and it is very exciting. I'm like a little kid waiting for Christmas again.....ha, ha..

I have attached a clip showing a similar tuned bala to the one I will be getting. Note the buzzing sound also. They use calabash suspended underneath to act as a sound chamber but these are also drilled and then a paper membrane placed over the holes to provide the buzzing sound.

There is also a clip showing a nice example of my favourite Zimbabwean guitarist, Oliver Mtukudzi who has been a great influence on the way I play.

Let me know what you think about this wonderful instrument and music.

Cheers, Gordon.:yes:

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eddiez152    129

Wonderful stuff, thanks for sharing. What a neat instrument as well. I am sure you will enjoy it .

Neria, I got to learn that. What a beautiful tune.

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Daktari    0

Hi there,

Glad you enjoyed that Eddie. The song 'Neria' is truly beautiful but also powerful. It is the title song from an African movie about the forgotten widows and their children in that part of the country. I have not seen the movie but I think Neria is one of these women who decides to stand up for herself and fight back. If you look at the other videos to the right, there is another version of the same song recorded in the BBC studios in London. On this version, Oliver plays it as a solo guitar/vocal and is equally touching.

Oliver Mtukudzi is an absolute master of writing powerful, moving lyrics and weaving them into wonderful airy, sometimes very catchy but always amazing music. Bob Marley was also good at using catchy music to get across sometimes very serious subjects.

As far as the bala goes, I'm just hoping it will be in tune ok so I can use it on some of my recordings. I have a picture of the bala maker in his village stood in front of a toasting oven with his knife in one hand and a digital tuner in the other. Tradition and technology coming together in Guinea.

All the best, Gordon.

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Daktari    0

Hi there,

Alan, that is an interesting question which to be honest, I have not even thought about so far. My main aim is to learn how to play the thing first, ha,ha...

Now you've got me thinking, I guess it would depend how the bala was going to be featured in the finished recording. I can see that if it was a solo bala performance it would make sense to use stereo mics so that the bass side could be panned slightly left and the high side panned to the right. This would make for a more spacious and interesting overall sound if the bala was to be the main featured sound. Similar to recording a piano I suppose.

However, if the bala is gonna be part of an ensemble, (this is how I see myself using it to begin with), I think a mono recording with one decent mic would be ok and this could be panned into whatever position needed in the final stereo mix.

The recorder I am using, the Boss BR600 has two built in stereo mics which give decent results when recording my djembe drum or a full live performance when played through my Bose L1 pa.

As I mentioned, until I feel confident in playing this new instrument, I will start to sneak it in to my guitar led recordings in a small way, maybe as some added percussion, just to give it that nice earthy African feel.

All the best, Gordon.

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redwolf813    0

Hi again Gordon. I'm sure we'd all be interested in hearing how that comes out. I think it would be cool sounding just doing some soft arpeggios and chord tones on it as a backup instrument.

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Daktari    0

Hi again,

Yes, to begin with, that is probably how I will use it. There are many variations of the African xylophone and a lot of the traditional tunings and scales they use would not be very suitable for mixing in with guitar, bass, etc... It is after all a percussion instrument because it is struck by rubber hammers or mallets.

The fact that I had mine made in a diatonic tuning makes it a lot more versatile and means it can be used with conventionally tuned western instruments, Course, this all depends on the guys skill at carving and how accurate the tuning actually turns out to be.

I have complete faith in their experience and carving skills...

Should be finding out soon.

Gordon.:yes:

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kidhaiti    0

Gordon looks and sounds like a great instrument. I look forward to hearing it some time in your songs.

I've also enjoyed the tracks you posted, they have rekindled my own love of African music.

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Daktari    0

Hi there,

Hey Kid, I'm glad something positive has come from me posting some music on here, ha, ha....

There is such a huge wealth of African music which a large number of people never even get a chance to listen to. When I say I like 'African' music, that's a bit like someone saying they like rock'n'roll. These are just convenient labels we stick onto things. Honestly, there's some African music that I'm not keen on.

Generally, I think sub-Sahara music is a little easier for us westeners to accept. A lot of North African music has a lot of middle eastern influence and uses different scales. I like that sometimes but for me, in smaller doses...

A lot of South African music as kind of come full circle. The African music that originally travelled west to the Americas and the Caribbean islands as now returned to Africa in the form of Latin and Cuban rhythms and also reggae from Jamaica. All this now mixes in with the traditional sounds of Zimbabwe and other southern African countries to give us a really interesting, powerful and sometimes, very catchy music.

This is the stuff that is lighting my candle at the moment and I'm really enjoying these small recording projects.

Cheers, Gordon.:smilinguitar:

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