Dondory - Bwaba - Balafonrhythms - Paul Nas
portfolio_page-template-default,single,single-portfolio_page,postid-34024,bridge-core-3.0.6,qode-page-transition-enabled,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-theme-ver-29.4,qode-theme-bridge,disabled_footer_bottom,qode_header_in_grid,qode-wpml-enabled,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-6.10.0,vc_responsive
Pentatonic balafon


11 November First English version

Dutch French

D Dondory is a balafon piece composed by Aly Keïta. From a very simple starting rhythm, one or two notes are added each time. Aly later called it, “Quand tu veut, tu peut” (Where there is a will, there is a way).

The piece was written to accompany the ancient saga known to the Bwaba about the origin of the balafon. There are several versions of it in circulation, but they always involve a hunter who one day cannot bring in hunting bounty, a forest spirit (Dondory) and an old dead tree against which a nap is taken.
Here is the version Youssouf Keita told me of a story circulating within his family.

One day, the village hunter called Pazo went out to collect meat in the ‘brousse’, the savannah. But the animals smelt his presence and took cover. By the end of the day, he had not shot anything and and had grown tired and went to rest against an old tree and fell asleep. A forest spirit (dondory) had seen him, this one also hiding because he had seen that the animals of the savannah feared Pazo. Carefully he approached Pazo and stripped him of his bow, arrows and of his hunting pouch. Now that he no longer had to be afraid of Pazo, he began squeezing him and started chopping off the branches of the tree where Pazo was sleeping. Pazo was startled awake but also noticed that the chopping by the forest spirit, made the old, dead wood of the tree produce a beautiful sound.

Pazo reached for his hunting gear, but he did not find it and the forest spirit continued chopping undisturbed. One by one, the branches fell to the ground and Pazo heard a beautiful sound with each falling branch. The falling branches made a beautiful melody of their own! When the tree was completely felled, the forest spirit went its own way. Pazo thought to himself, ‘If I don’t bring that meat this day, then at least these beautiful sounding branches of the old tree.’

Later, he arrived in the village and threw the bundle of wood on the ground. Again a beautiful melody emerged that caught the attention of everyone in the village. They were amazed by the beautiful sound and were content that Pazo had not brought any meat with him; the village ‘griot’ and all the women too took some of the wood to their huts. The beautiful sounds from the wood could now be enjoyed in every hut. This music inspired the women to sing a song in which they asked the forest spirit for forgiveness for the turmoil caused by hunters in the savannah with their hunting. Later, the wood was used to make the first balafon.

To learn to play it; practice a half block (with its own number) and play that without effort. Add the stroke from the next block and practice yourself adding a stroke each time and returning to the first block without pausing. If that goes without too much effort, add the extra stroke from the next block again and practice in the same way from block 1 to where you came and back again.

Each culture has its own stories about its past, of course, and the Bwaba have a slightly different saga than, say, the Malinke, where the origin of the balafon is described in The Story of Soundiata Keita, the griot of a king who himself had been given the first balafon by a forest spirit.

‘Dondoris, sabere han Pazo,
Dondoris, sabere han Pazo’

Dondory,forgive Pazo

Aly & Youssouf Keita meeting; Dondory

Aly & Youssouf Keïta during the balafon meeting in Tilburg, June 2022

Interpretation by the trio Aly Keïta, Jan Galega Brönniman & Lucas Niggli


Sources: Youssouf & Aly Keita in Tilburg, June 2022. Youssouf Keïta, Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, February 2018. Album by Aly Keita; ‘Akwaba Iniséne’, booklet with instruction video Aly Keita & Gert Kilian.

Update history
  • 11 November 2022: First English and French version
    20 June 2022: PDF and story
No Comments

Post A Comment