Commis - Bambara / Djoula - Balafonrhythms - Paul Nas
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Pentatonic balafon


Last update 11 January 2023

Dutch French

CCommis is an old balafon piece that dates back to colonial times when the French occupied large parts of West Africa. It is shown here with a Bambara / Djoula song. At the time of the French occupation, only the (white) French men actually wore trousers. Within the government, the only native allowed to wear trousers was the “Le Commissair”, or as the Africans called it: the “Commis”. It was the highest civil servant position that could also be held by black people.
Sometimes black people tried to get a bit closer to the white ruling class. Once someone came back from a trip to the city and had put on a pair of trousers, a Djeli balfonist responded by making an appropriate story / song and this song came up with the message: “The trousers don’t make you Commis”. It is a metaphor; external display, expensive (brand) clothing, expensive cars, TVs, the latest smartphone, or other things don’t make you a better person.

Comie – ye , Commie – ye, Commie – ye bète Commie- ye
Commie – ye bète Commie- ye, pantalon donba, bète Commie- ye

I made pattern D myself by reversing the left and right hand setting of pattern C. I freely interpreted patterns B and E from my own sound recordings where Youssouf Keita played the song more freely during the workshop. I have adjusted the (structure of) the melody so that it now comes in 8 bars. I have also added a possibility for percussion. Note the flam in pattern A.


View during our workshop in Mali when we worked on Commis.

Pattern A and melody played by Youssouf Keita (in A-major)

Pattern C played by Youssouf Keita (in A-major)

Pattern A and C (in A-major)


Youssouf Keita & Kassoum Keita, Konsankuy, Mali 2012. Youssouf Keita, Tilburg, Netherlands, June 2022.

Update history
  • 11 January 2023; New PDF, additional melody added and layout improved.
  • 29 July 2020: PDF; correction in last part melody, 2nd option in pattern B added
  • 4 December 2019: New!
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