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Inventing new marimba techniques

The purpose of this project is to enrich the performance possibilities of the marimba, a western percussion instrument, by enquiring into its West African roots — the pentatonic balafon tradition from West Africa, specifically the wooden keyboard music of the Bobo tribe living in Mali and Burkina Faso.

A deep investigation into the origins will inspire the contemporary marimba compositions. Hence, the project proposes a transcription method— immediate transcription, meaning the implementation of a foreign ethnic repertoire, with preservation of its performance techniques and musical approaches into the western instrument. The project wants to conduct an inquiry into the musical approaches and performance techniques of balafon and western marimba music and produce compositions in ‘authentic’ ethnic styles innovating the present repertoire.

The evidence of differences between the western marimba and African balafon gained through previous research leads to following questions: What are the contrasts in the musical approach and performance technique between the Africans and Europeans? Which different weight do they attribute to the body (motion) and the perceptions (hearing) in performance?

The work plan includes interviews with African and European balafon musicians, field trips to Africa, digitization and documentation of early field trip recordings.

Researchers: Adilia Yip, Kathleen Coessens