History of Burkina Faso Music

by 09/11/2012 12:10:00 0 comments 3653 Views

Burkina Faso is home to some 60 different ethnic groups, each with their own variety of folk music. The country has produced very little popular music compared to its neighbors, which includes African musical giants like Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Burkinabé traditional music, however, has continued to thrive in spite of the influx of popular styles, and the country's cultural, and musical, output remains quite diverse.

The national anthem of Burkina Faso is "Une Seule Nuit", written by Thomas Sankara. It has been the official anthem of the country since 1984, when Upper Volta became known as Burkina Faso. It remains even after Sankara was murdered in a coup, the leader of which remains in power.

There is a National Museum of Music in Ouagadougou. Its collection is a few years old, beginning in 1998, but already has several hundred unique musical instruments. These include the balafon and bara.

Popular music

Unlike most African countries, Burkina Faso has not yet had a popular national style, and the most popular recordings are imported from Europe, the United States, Democratic Republic of the Congo to invest, large-scale concerts, advanced recording studios, electric instruments and amplification and widespread distribution are difficult.

The Semaine Nationale de la Culture, held every two years since 1983, is a music festival that has helped produce the country's few stars, including Jean-Claude Bamogo. Koudbi Koala's Saaba, who perform traditional Mossi music, come from the region around Ouagadougou, the nation's capital.

Traditional music

Djeli are a caste of praise-singers in Burkina Faso, their function related to the griots elsewhere in West Africa. At each ruler's funeral, djeli recite the names and histories of all the past rulers, and also intervene in personal affairs of common people, as well as performing at social gatherings.

The Mande people of the southwest are known for balafon (wooden xylophone) music, while the large, centrally-located Mossi and their griots retain ancient royal courts and courtly music. The Fulbe (Fula) of the north use complex vocal techniques with clapping percussion.

There are some modern popular traditional groups in Burkina Faso, including balafon bands, such as Saramaya, Les Freres Coulibaly and Djeli-Kan, percussion ensembles (Adama Dramé and others, like le Troupe Saaba, Farafina and Djiguiya. The Italy-based Gabin Dabiré is a world musician who uses elements of traditional Burkinabé music in his work.


Djembe drums and balafon are often manufactured in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso's second-largest city. The djembe is a vital part of Burkinabé traditional music. It is said to be of Malinké origin. It is made from a single piece of wood, often from the caïlcedrat tree or lenke tree. The shell is in the shape of a chalice, and it is headed with goat, antelope or calf skin. Modern djembes use a combination of steel rings and nylon rope to attach the head.

The balafon is a kind of wooden xylophone, the exact characteristics of which can vary depending on the maker. The Dagara, Bwa and Senufo peoples all have their own varieties.

The bendré is a membranophone made from a gourd with the top cut off and covered with goat or sheep skin. The same instrument is called bara in Mali and dumaa among the Hausa in Ghana & Benin. The bendré is an ancient instrument, played at the royal courts of Moaga; it was probably introduced during the reign of Naaba Oubri, and has been much the same since. Bendré music is sacred, and is played by a head drummer (benaaba), who strikes the center or edges to makes varying sounds.

The kora is a stringed instrument played traditionally by the djeli in Burkina Faso. The same instrument is found throughout much of West Africa, and is especially known in Mali. It has features of both the lute (both are played with the right hand) and the harp (both have a resonator and perpendicular strings). The instrument has been popular since the Malian empire of the 1240s, but probably dates much farther back. It is made from half of a gourd covered in goat or calf skin, which is perforated by two handles. A stick runs through the gourd perpendicular to the handles and the bridge, and the strings are joined to the bridge. Though the instrument traditionally featured seven strings, the Gambian griot Madi Woulendi increased that number to twenty-one. The kora can be played in several scales including the hypolydian mode (saouta), silaba, sim'bi and mandéka.

Another stringed instrument is called the n'goni. Legend says it was invented by a Senufo hunter. The n'goni is also played in Niger, Senegal and Mali.

Two current CDs of traditional Burkinabe music are available through Nonesuch Records: 1. Savannah Rhythms and 2. Music of the Grasslands

Documentary films of traditional Burkinabe musicians and celebrations have been published by African Family Films.