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.
Another 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.