The balafon is a West African xylophone and an instrument steeped in history. Believed to have originated in the Mande areas of West Africa (Mali, Guinea, the Gambia, Burkina Faso) 800 years ago, the balafon is at the centre of the national myth that recounts the creation of the Mali Empire. It adds a colourful percussive backbone to the music in which it features, and exists in two variations: the heptatonic (seven-note) balafon, which is flat and played by leading Malian player Lassana Diabaté; and the pentatonic (five-note) balafon, which is played by internationally renowned Mamadou Diabaté. Traditional tunings and scales vary across the region, though nowadays the instrument is often tuned to a Western diatonic scale. Have a listen to this playlist, which features master players like Mamadou Diabaté, Kélétigui Diabaté and many more, to truly immerse yourself in the sound of the balafon.
Though forced to go on hiatus after a thriving career in the 70s due to the introduction of a dictatorship and subsequent economic decline in their home country of Benin, Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou has reformed with a few of its original members to create Madjafalao. The re-inspired group’s new album continues to play with Afro-soul, Afrobeat and soukous guitar style, which make it a highly danceable and welcome return. Read a full review of the album in the current issue (#124).
Bollywood Brass Band’s two new originals from their latest album, Carnatic Connection, recorded with Karnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, follow the rest of the album’s cinematic theme as they were inspired by the 1948 Bollywood classic Chandralekha. The rest of the album provides reinvented film tracks like Slumdog Millionaire’s ‘Jai Ho’ and Dil Se’s ‘Jiya Jale.’ Read the review of Carnatic Connection in the current issue (#124).
Dark and haunting, Inuk singer Tanya Tagaq’s latest album, Retribution, tackles topics like rape and violence against the environment and the indigenous women of northern Canada through Inuit throat singing. Although ‘Aorta’ is mostly made up of vocal sounds rather than words, the award-winning singer is a master at conveying hard-hitting messages through her compelling performances. Read a full review of the album in the current issue (#124).