Balafon - Senegal

Purchased in Dakar, Senegal, 1966

From Graciela's Notes

The balo is a West African xylophone with wooden bars. Each bar has its own hollow gourd resonator to make the sound louder. Balos are often played with drums, and are an important part of official ceremonies and village festivals. The balo has eighteen bars. These are not tuned to the diatonic scale so it is not too easy to play melodies with which we are familiar and think we play or should be able to play. Each bar is graduated in size therefore it produces a different pitch. They are struck with two beaters. The bars are secured to the frame with a cord and so are the single gourd resonators.

I bought the balo when Ruth Distin and I toured the Canary Islands and West Africa. This instrument brought with it quite a scary experience. We were in Dakar, Senegal and had just found the instrument at an outdoor market. I bought it and prepared to carry it the three blocks to our hotel. Since it was getting dark we walked fast, even though the balo was heavy and a bit awkward to carry. We were carrying it between us and sharing the load. We discovered that there was a native walking behind us and thought he was going to offer to help carry it. He got closer to us but did not offer – he just kept very close and followed. We became scared and walked faster. He followed us into the hotel and just stood there looking at us. By this time we were very uneasy – immediately asked the Concierge to ask him to leave but he said that since he was a black man he couldn’t do that but that we should not ask for our room key and to stay in the lobby. The bellboys and other employees came to aid us. (Seems that if the Concierge asked him to leave he and the hotel could get into a problem with the police). So we sat around and so did the follower. At my insistence one of the bellboys asked him what he wanted. The reply was that he wanted me because Allah had given him a sign that I was his and that he wouldn’t leave without me. You can imagine my/our shock and fear. The man just sat there without moving, for two hours. He wasn’t going anywhere – we were advised not to look his way. So, in order to stay calm, we decided to wrap up the balo so I could send it as baggage on the plane. Members of the hotel staff found paper, tape, cord and whatever else we needed. Every-so-often one of the boys would amble over to the man to see if someone could persuade him to leave. The boys insisted that the man was under the influence of a drug, perhaps an hallucination drug, or under some sort of a spell. This “watch” lasted two long, long hours- he finally left on his own. We waited another hour before we asked for the room key, had one of the bellboys escort us to our room and once inside piled furniture at the door. It was a long and restless night. So, the instrument is rather special, but not for happy memories. But, we did like Senegal 1969.

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