Balafon (Balafong, Balaphone) is a
kind of wooden xylophone
or percussion idiophone which plays melodic tunes and
usually has between 16 to 27 keys which has been played
in the region since the 1300s and originated in Mali
according to the Manding history narrated by the griots.
They call it
"a gift from the devil"
to the Kuyateh families. This was the period under the
founder Sunjata Keita and his Sosso rival Soumaoro Kante
who was said to have been given by Balafon by
The instrument, as well as the Karanyango (bell), was
incorporated into the musical ensemble of the griots
to accompany the Kora.
The tuning process is related to the language that is
peculiar to each ethnic group or to the scales of their
songs. Many variations are to be found within each tribal
The slats are generally made from a hardwood, and are
carefully dried over a low intensity fire to achieve
their deep resonance. The ends of each slat are burnt
black with an iron to seal them. After the rough cut,
it is necessary to fine-tune the keys to the desired
pitches. The fine-tuning of the keys is accomplished
by thinning the centre to lower the key's pitch and
by thinning the ends to raise the pitch.