The Diabates

The very first Diabate (originally  "i jemba te" = you are unsurpassable) was mentioned in the Sundiata epic in the 13th century*. We are still devoted to our profession and, therefore there are lot of Diabates on the top of the West African music scene. The Diabates in the north-western Mande area (Mali, Senegal) mainly play the kora (a harp-lute), we in the Southeast (Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso) rather the balafon (a xylophone).

*See David C. Conrad (ed): SUNJATA, Hackett Publishing Company Indianapolis/Cambridge, 2004 (pages 46-51)


In my culture, like in many other African cultures, some professions are reserved for certain clans (dynasties) – as a privilege and a duty at the same time -; the training takes place strictly internally, outsiders are not admitted. "Jeliya" is one of these professions. No diplomas are issued; your family name entitles you to practice this profession. Your ability, however, has to be proven every day.


The greatest Diabate-balafonists live among the Tusia,Sambla and Siamou peoples:

Sambla Diabates: (recorded at the SNC 1988 in Koudugu)

My grandmother Tene Traore sings, my father Penegue Diabate plays the balafon solo. On his left side my brother Sibiri and on the opposite side of the xylophone I play the basic ostinato. The songs we play:

GBENE GOSARA SO: This is an ancient praise song for the very first village chief of Gbene (Bouendé on modern maps), who was elected by the village people for his virtues. The xylophone says that all people are satisfied with his way of managing village affairs and that nobody can surpass him. (Nr.2 on my CD Keneya)


TAN FOGO BO: This is an ancient prize song for the founder-chief of Takon (Kongolikan on modern maps) whose Jelis were my ancestors. (Nr.8 on my CD Sababu)


TOGONBO DON: This is the praise song for the second village chief of Takon. The xylophone says that his fame has even superseded that of his legendary father. (Nr.9 on my CD Keneya)

Tusia Diabates: (recorded in Peni Village in 2001)

Daouda Diabate was one of my teachers. My virtuosity - some people say, I would
have more than two hands - I owe to him. He has brought up lot of good Balafonists. He was very strict with his gifted students. (Owing to this I had permanently mango-sized bumps on my head...)


Here we play "DabaBa" (the big hoe) - a music for sowing.(Nr 2 on the CD Tusia Fadenya) He starts alone but plays for three musicians: he combines the most relevant patterns from the solo, the base and the ostinato. Then, about one and half minutes later, I take over the ostinato and we speed up...