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Gallery Concert: Kakande Quartet Performs Music of the Mandé Empire

Ken Moore, Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge, Department of Musical Instruments

Posted: Monday, March 3, 2014

Famoro Dioubate performs in the Museum's African Art galleries

Famoro Dioubate performs in the Museum's African Art galleries. Image courtesy of the artist

«On Wednesday, March 5, the Department of Musical Instruments will present a gallery concert featuring the Kakande Quartet, who will perform music from the Mandé Empire of West Africa. The ensemble is led by the renowned Guinean balofon player Famoro Dioubate. As a jali, or griot, Dioubate represents an eight-hundred-year lineage of musicians that serve as the primary storytellers and historians of their society.»

Dioubate's instrument, the balo, is a type of xylophone with wooden bars and gourd resonators. The instrument has a buzzing sound that is essential to the music of the region, produced by using a modifier made of a membrane stretched across a hole in the gourd. Traditionally, on older balos—like the nineteenth-century example from the Museum's collection—the membrane comes from a spider's-egg casing, but on more modern instruments materials such as cigarette papers are used.


Balo, 19th century. Mandika people. Wood, gourd, hide, membrane; L. 86.5 cm (34 1/16 in.).; W. 45.5 cm (17 15/16 in.); Diam. 22 cm (8 11/16 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889 (89.4.492)

KoraAnother instrument to be featured in the demonstration by the Kakande Quartet is the kora, which will be played by Yacouba Sissoko. The kora is a type of lute, with a calabash resonator that is covered with sheep or goat hide. The Museum has a Senegalese kora that was made by the master maker Mamadou Kouyaté. The kora has an unusual bridge that stands quite high from the body; instead of the strings passing across the top of the bridge, they pass through the bridge in a line that is perpendicular to the body. The instrument is held in front of the musician, whose thumb and forefinger are used to pluck the strings while the rest of the fingers grasp wooden pegs to hold the instrument in place.

The remaining members of the Kakande Quartet are djembe player Mangue Sylla and vocalist Missia Saran Dioubate. A brief tour of the Musical Instruments galleries immediately follows the concert.

Left: Mamadou Koyaté (bridge by Djimo Koyaté). Kora, ca. 1960. Senegal. Gourd, goat skin, antelope-hide metal, wood; L. 115.8 cm (45 9/16 in.); W. 52.5 cm (20 11/16 in.); Diam. 27.6 cm (10 7/8 in.). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund 1975 (1975.59)


  • Todd Martin says:

    Dear Mr. Moore:

    It is fantastic that you are featuring the music of Mr. Dioubate in your gallery. Thank you for drawing attention to the history and culture of the people of this part of West Africa.

    I must comment though on your use (and especially spelling), of certain local terminology--namely: "balo" and "balofon."

    The term "balo" (spelled with an "o"), is unique to the Mandinka branch of the Mande language area and ultimately represents a localized--Senegambian--variant to "bala" (spelled with an "a"), which (along with "balafon" [also spelled with an "a"]), is perhaps a more appropriate general term for the instrument in a pan-Mande context.

    Regarding the term "balafon" specifically, Wesleyan music professor Eric Charry points out: "Maninka jelis prefer the term bala to balafon, which probably entered into European usage from bala fo (to play the bala). . . . The term balafon has been generally applied to all West African xylophones, but each group has its own name for its instruments." Charry (2000: pp. 138-9)

    In the following video, Mr. Dioubate himself explains that indeed "bala" is the preferred term:


    Again, sir, you honor the Mande people by inviting Mr. Dioubate to perform in your gallery. Thank you for drawing the spotlight on this important part of our world's awesome cultural diversity.

    Todd Martin
    PhD Candidate, York University

    Posted: March 4, 2014, 2:46 p.m.

  • Ken Moore says:

    Dear Todd,

    Thank you very much for this thoughtful response. Terminology is always a difficult subject and the Museum tries to adopt the usage of the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, which uses the term balo (with bala as an alternate). However, we will take your comments into consideration as we continue to assess and evaluate our collection in light of new scholarship.

    Thanks again,

    Ken Moore

    Posted: March 6, 2014, 12:37 p.m.

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About the Author

Ken Moore is the Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments.

About this Blog

The Museum's collection of musical instruments includes approximately five thousand examples from six continents and the Pacific Islands, dating from about 300 B.C. to the present. It illustrates the development of musical instruments from all cultures and eras. On this blog, curators and guests will share information about this extraordinary collection, its storied history, the department's public activities, and some of the audio and video recordings from our archives.