We’ve pretty much reached the end. I can’t believe it. It feels like barely any time at all has passed yet so much ground has been covered. I’ve come so far yet there is still so much further to go. The balafon training/playing has come to an end now and we are to spend the last two days of this week learning more about balafon maintenance. There’s a balafon sat in the hallway and I’m waiting for Sory to arrive so we can start to dismantle it. Although there’s no music involved this is almost one of the most exciting things for me. I’ve been desperate to learn this so I can work on my balafon and a few that some of my friends own that are just lying around in a bad state of repair. I’ve been unhappy with the sound of my bala for a while but clueless as to what to to do about it.
This week I have focused on revision and recording. Although I could have squeezed in time to learn a few more pieces I’m glad we did this as a couple of clarifications were made and I may have left room for error if this hadn’t been done. Yesterday I recorded an interview with Sory. Naively I assumed we would sit down, press record and in half an hour have a great twenty five minute interview, answering some interesting questions, finished with a short performance. The camera switched itself off twice. Translation took ages. We had to change rooms. The camera battery died. So, it wasn’t all that simple. However some really interesting stuff was covered including the history of the balafon, stories of Sory’s learning as a young griot and how things about the music have changed recently. Some examples are: the name bala (balafon was a name given by other cultures much later in the history) is from the first man ever to play the instrument Bala Faso Kouyate. The Kouyate family are the owners of the balafon. This is particularly interesting to me as I saw a Kouyate griot play at Womad last year and he completely owned it. Secondly, at the age of twelve adults used to come Sory’s house and ask his father if they could take Sory to play lead balafon at ceremonies. Twelve years old and he was in demand as a balafon soloist. Just let that sink in. Finally I found it really interesting to learn that it is only in the latter half of the last century that these instruments started to use modal scales. Previously traditional africans scales, or chords as Sory called them, were used and are very different. I listened to a piece and it just sounded out of tune to me! Sory learned with these scales but only started using western ones at around 1997. He played on a traditional one a few years ago again but said he had didn’t stay on it for long as he felt uncomfortable. This all came as quite a surprise as I thought that the reason we use the same scales was that they originate in ancient Greece and had made their way to both cultures at separate points in history.
The footage contains more detail and once I have learnt how to do some editing I will post it for all to see. I have included a little clip of us playing for now. Notice the difference in our arms. I am trying to use my wrists more but watching the two of us together you can really see a difference. I asked Sory for his most important advice for my learning and he said relaxation is the first step. I think it could be a good idea to film myself playing a lot and watch it back to see. As much as I’m sad about leaving lyon and coming home I’m excited to really step it up a gear with daily practise and focused goals and see how far I can get in the next year before I see Sory again!
This post is entitled as such as although I’ve been playing for a while it feels like only here in lyon have I taken the first true steps as a proper balafon player. Now armed with real technique and bags of inspiration can I restart the journey on my way to tackling this instrument. It’s going to be a very long journey no doubt. So this is the end of my scholarship but the beginning of a lifetime of learning balafon.