DER Documentary

Masters of the Balafon series

by Hugo Zemp
color, 221 min (plus 54 min of extras), 2001-2002

Non-profit, K-12, and Individual pricing also available
See pricing information and conditions

Balafon is the name given in French-speaking West Africa to a xylophone with calabash resonators. This instrument is emblematic of the Senufo people of the Côte d'Ivoire (the former Ivory Coast). The balafon is played under differing circumstances and in combination with different groups of instruments. Not for nothing do the peoples of the Côte d'Ivoire call the northern part of their country "the land of the balafon."

Filmed in long sequences to preserve the integrity of the music and speech of the musicians, this series of four documentaries introduces the audience to the fascinating world of a living musical tradition. Each documentary can be viewed independently, as a whole, or in sections indicated by chapter titles. The complete series lasts nearly 4 ½ hours (including extras), providing a full account of a sophisticated African musical tradition.

“Hugo Zemp has this remarkable gift for placing the audience in the midst of the action... (He) presents a piece of work that no lover of traditional West African music - be it researchers, musicians, music lovers, teachers or students - should do without.” — Vincent Zanetti, Cahiers de musiques traditionnelles, 15, 2002 (translated from French)
“These videos exhibit, in their picture and sound quality, all the marks of state-of-the-art digital technology, and the camera work by Zemp, usually up close and right in the thick of things, ensures that we can almost feel as if we were there... The series is a major achievement in visual documentation.” — Roderic Knight, Ethnomusicology, 49 (2), 2005
“The Masters of the Balafon films all show the respect Zemp has for the musicians and their culture, and the instrument.” — Geoffrey Whittall, The World of Music, 47(2), 2005

Films in the Masters of the Balafon series
Funeral Festivities (with 24 minutes of extras)
The Joy of Youth (with 9 minutes of extras)
The Wood and the Calabash
Friend, Well Come! (with 21 minutes of extras)

Related Resources
Read Hugo Zemp's and Sikaman Soro's article "Talking Balafons" (2010)
Read Hugo Zemp's article "Senufo Balafon Music": Part 1, Part 2 (2006)

Related Films
Siaka, An African Musician
An African Brass Band
Play, Jankunú Play - The Garifuna Wanaragua Ritual of Belize
The Swahili Beat: An Introduction to the History of the East African Coast

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts