Boomkat Product Review:
Totally entrancing recordings of traditional music from the West African nation, Burkina Faso; forming the first of three excellent volumes recorded on location by Hisham Mayet.
Whilst previous Sublime Frequencies editions have skirted Burkina Faso, focussing on Mali, Benin and Niger in particular, this is their first proper visit to the landlocked country; although one track recorded in Ouagadougou appeared on Guitars From Agadez Vol.7, whose recording assistant, Koutana Van Loon, tragically passed away during the final stages of this recording, hence it’s lovingly dedicated to his memory.
As with all proceeding sides in this series, each is focussed on the musical traditions of a specific ethnic group which, together, make up the richness of Burkina Faso’s musical traditions.
Volume 1 looks to the Lobi, an ethnic group living in southwestern Burkina Faso and in bordering regions of Ivory Coast and Ghana. Their main instrument, employed in both of these recordings, is a gyil, a variant of the balafon - a sort of xylophone with spiders egg sac resonators - whose chiming, buzzing melodic tone mimics regional speech and allows its users to “translate human speech and emotions into a musical language that the dead can understand.”
The A-side was recorded from below the gyil, or balafon, at an early evening “cabaret” (we promise there’s no sh*t show tunes!) fuelled on chapalo, a sort of millet beer, for twenty minutes of floating, fluid melodies, enchanting vocals and pointillist, picking rhythm sliced from a much longer session. You can colour us transcended.
Side B’s Funeral Music is detectably more low key, melancholy, but we wouldn’t call it sad music. It was recorded for the early morning funeral of a town elder, and pairs the buzzy tang of the balafon with a low register vocal refrain meant to transmit the voice of the deceased. Apparently they would play and sing like this all day in his honour. What a send off?!