bala

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Considered  by  many  the   precursor  of  the  contemporary  xylophone, this Equi-Heptatonic  Bala "BalaFon" has 20 or 21 keys (professional version).
Originally created by the Blacksmith, it ended up also  being played by Jelis.
It  consists  of  a low  flat  frame  on  which  several   strips  of  Bala wood  of  decreasing length are placed parallel to each other.
The underneath shape of each strip will define its main sound.
Each  strip  has its own resonators  made  of  calabash  bowls  of  corresponding  sizes attached   to  its  base. Two holes covered with thin egg membrane on the calabash bowls, gives its buzzing sound effect . Two mallets  with  natural  rubber tips, are used to strike the keys.
This instrument was inspired and created with materials and behaviors used in the Blacksmith daily life in the Mandingue at the time of its creation. Blacksmiths work on metal and wood, and build all iron tools to carve wood or for farming..etc – The Bala wooden keys need metal tools to be carved and an oven to dry them. The action of playing the Bala also emulate the striking of hot metal.etc..

The oldest Balafon (The Sosso-Bala) was crafted by Soumaworo Kante over 800 years ago.
He kept his instrument jealousy guarded and allowed no one to touch it but himself.
During the time of battle with the Malinke Kingdom, a griot named Diakouma Doua, who was jailed at Soumaworo's court, defied the forbidden warnings and played the Sosso-bala.
Though he was enraged by his audacity, Soumaworo was impressed by the griot's talent, and authorized him (Diakouma Doua) to play the sosso-bala.
He named him "Bala Fasseke Kwate" (the balafon player), and this is how "Bala Fasseke"'s family (and their descendant the "Kouyate") became the guardian of Soumaworo Kante's balafon.

This very first Balafon is presently kept virtually intact in the village of Niagassola in the north-east region of Guinea (by the Mali border), and has been declared world heritage by UNESCO.
It is kept and only played by the most senior member of the Kouyate family. Nowadays, the Sosso-Bala is only played once a year.

The older Balafons used to be a lot wider and bulkier than nowadays. Other  versions  of  this same instrument,  with  a more pronounced  curved  frame, are  also found in  other  countries  of   West   Africa with various different tunings like  pentatonic.
It is now usually played by a  Jeli, to  accompany women singing or percussion rhythms.

This  flat  Heptatonic chassis  version   originates   from  Guinea.