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date: 16 November 2019


  • Jeremy Montagu


Frame xylophone of Burkina Faso. It has 17 or sometimes 18 rectangular wooden bars; all except the one to three lowest bars have large calabash resonators below them with buzzing membranes (mirletons) over holes in the side. It is tuned to an anhemitonic pentatonic scale of three octaves and a tone, with the intervals varying between a slightly narrow whole tone and a minor third. The lowest bars, because they are not resonated and are used differently, are not part of the scale system. The instrument is used for funeral rites, the name meaning ‘funeral repertoire’. It is played with wooden sticks tipped with natural rubber.

The lowest one to three bars, called jìl kpàwre (jìl or gyil: xylophones in general; kpàwre: beating, hence in this context ‘accompanying the xylophone with these bars’), serve a special purpose, being played by a second player with wooden sticks (often with the normal beaters reversed) only to mark the rhythm. The second player is thus regarded not as playing the xylophone but as accompanying it, so that, unlike other xylophones, the ...

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