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Last night I watched Sory’s younger brother, Alsenny, tune the slats on this balafon. We walked around town and visited two shops to buy a guitar tuner despite me showing him the tuner on my phone. I realised once he was tuning (judging by the look of surprise on his face that my tuner showed the same pitch as the one he bought) that he just didn’t trust it! Using a kind of sideways axe (tell me if you know the name of this- I need one!) and a plane he chopped and shaved bits off the underneath of the slat to get the correct pitch. Taking away mass from the middle to flatten the sound and from the edge to sharpen. The axe is to take big leaps in pitch and the plane to fine tune.

Making sure to turn each one upside down and working on both edges he made all the changes even and consistent. I couldn’t understand why he was tuning the F notes to F# until a while later Sory explained it was for a concert with Seckou Keita, a Kora player I’ve met before, this tuning is called Sol apparently. Normally balafons are in C major with no sharps or flats, starting and ending on G.

Staying up late watching Alsenny tuning made me quite tired and today didn’t really get off to the best start. Sory often leaves me to it for a bit, which is ok. He shows me something, makes sure I understand it and then leaves me to practise and get my head and hands around the coordination. I’m fine with that and don’t expect him to sit and watch and be there throughout the entire day. However this morning he just said to work on Guinee Fare and went off for a bit. I did, but was left feeling a bit disappointed at that. When he came back I explained that I’m fine with Guinee Fare now. I understand it, have written it all down and I’m happy with leaving it there. He sat down and showed me another accompaniment for another rhythm we have been looking at: Soko. Again he left me to practise (which I needed) but after a while I went searching to find him teaching what seemed to be another drumming class next door. When he returned I tried to say how I don’t just want to practise, I want to be taught and that I’m paying for lessons. I got that message across and that I was happy to be left alone for a short while but couldn’t explain what the issue was. He apologised and offered to make the time up but I wasn’t looking for that. I’m not bothered about it being exactly six hours. I just didn’t understand why he was teaching another class at the same time I was supposed to be having tuition. An air of negativity lingered after this and I couldn’t help but be distracted by it. I offered to buy him some lunch to keep it sweet and show I’m not annoyed. I think the message was understood and we’re on the right track, he was laughing when I left at least.

 

Long story short, I’ve had a bit of a bad day. Maybe it’s just how the day panned out and bit of fatigue, mental and phyiscal, but whatever it is it’s left me feeling a bit fed up. Writing these blogs really makes you think and analyse the situation you’re in. The process has left me feeling a little emotional, oddly. Why? Je ne comprends (I must say this about ten times a day… ). Maybe it’s the public sharing of what is actually quite a personal experience. Still, it’s good to be open and paint the real picture. I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park! I’m certainly not lonely here. Yet nevertheless, being alone in a foreign country is quite a difficult experience, especially when you don’t understand the local tongue.

Having said that, I had a great day on Sunday, wondering around on my own, taking photos practising my french and enjoying being a tourist. It came as quite a shock as you can expect when I got stopped, cornered and searched by two undercover police officers! I think they thought I was looking for a corner to hide in to do something dodgy (I was just trying to find a toilet in the metro station).

I’ve experimented with a few different ways of scoring balafon. I started like a piano, with two staves. This doesn’t really work though as the left and right hand parts aren’t always separate so combining the two looks messy. In a single treble clef, lots of bass notes mean too many ledger lines below the stave which makes it difficult to read. I think the best way is guitar is written: an octave higher than played. I’ve not come across many supports that go far into the upper octave of the instrument so there’s no need to keep switching clefs for the higher register. This region is more for fills and soloing it seems. Below is an example: an introduction and first accompaniment for Guinee Fare. As you can see I’ve used two voices on one stave to separate the left and right hand parts. When both hands come together to play one phrase, a sinlge voice on the stave is sufficient and the handing can be indicated above to help. I’m using the journey time to sketch out all the supports (although this caused me to miss my stop this morning!).