Bala, Wood, gourd, hide, membrane, Mandinka people


19th century
Mandinka people
Wood, gourd, hide, membrane
L. 34 1/16 x W. 17 15/16 × D. 8 11/16 in (86.5 x 45.5 × 22 cm)
Credit Line:
The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889
Accession Number:
Not on view
This balo is a xylophone with 15 gourd-resonated bars of wood. Among the Manding peoples, professional male musicians play such xylophones to accompany praise songs in a manner akin to music of the kora. Each hand holds a rubber-tipped mallet and bells are strapped to the player's wrist to add rhythmic emphasis. A sound modifier is affixed over the holes located under the bars in the side of each gourd. In old examples such as this one, the modifier, which produces a buzzing sound essential to the African music aesthetic, is made of a membrane from a spider's-egg case. Today, makers use a more durable and accessible material—cigarette paper.
Mary Elizabeth Adams Brown
Jayson Kerr Dobney, Bradley Strauchen-Scherer. Musical Instruments: Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. First Printing. @2015 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. New York, 2015, pp. 2-3, 142-143, ill.