Inventing New Marimba Performance from the African Balafon Music Practice

Date: 31 October 2018

Venue: Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, Witte Zaal - Desguinlei 25 - 2018 Antwerpen

Time: 6:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: ARIA, Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp

Principal investigator: Henk de Smaele, Kathleen Coessens

Short description: PhD defence On Ying (Adilia) Yip - Antwerp Research Institute for the Arts


The aim of this practice-based project is to search for new performance perspectives for the marimba (invented in the 1910s) by inquiring into the West African music tradition—the balafon of the Bobo and Bamana peoples living in Mali and Burkina Faso. Through a triangulation of research methodology—participant-observation, literature and artistic practice—I have gained insights into the artistic experience of stepping into the 'unknown' balafon world.

The written result is a discussion of how I have overcome the obstacles of learning, performing and listening to balafon music, and how these experiences have renewed and enriched my original artistic practice and ideas. Due to the music’s oral tradition, the balafon polyrhythm and melodic materials are embodied in forms of bimanual coordination patterns rather than symbolic representation. Music-making is largely informed by the performer's motoric sensory, and body movement is given a crucial role in music communication and sensory perception.

The second purpose of this research is, therefore, to apply these balafon practices to Western performance. This yields as artistic outcome—five commissioned compositions for the marimba and a concert program 'In the Heat of the Moment'.

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