My people, the Sambla live in 12 villages on the border between the Mande and the Gur cultures in the Savannah Region of West Africa about 50 km westwards of Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina Faso. This area is a colourful mosaic of tiny, dispersed and little-known Mande and Gur cultures with archaic characteristics, like Sambla, Tusia, Sya, Semu and Tyefu. The language and culture of the Sambla with its archaic characteristics has hardly been researched and will probably disappear before the world takes any notice of it. The Sambla are crop farmers planting millet, corn, peanuts and cotton. The climate is extremely dry and hot and the ground is hard and stony. There are no passable roads and no electricity. As the use of agricultural machinery is almost impossible their yields are very minimal leaving them extremely poor.
As far as I know, none of the other great xylophone cultures of the world (Cambodia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Uganda etc.) have xylophones that speak. This phenomenon is only found among these tiny enchanted cultures in West Africa.
The music shows other similarities to the American blues too, like off-beat phrasing, swing rhythm, melismatic singing. The same tonal system and musical style were documented in the 1960s by Gerhard Kubik ca. 2000 km eastwards among the Tikar in Central Cameroon. The huge geographical distance between these peoples and their isolation suggest that this tonal system and style have existed for several centuries in Africa. Any influence on this music from America can be excluded because this music precedes the American blues, and also because of the close ties between the music and the daily activities.
The general feature of the Sambla music reminds of the Chaconne or Passacaglia (variations on a permanently repeated "basso ostinato"), that were prevalent in the compositions of Frescobaldi, Buxtehude, Couperin, Händel and Bach in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Africa, two or more ostinato patterns are used simultaneously. The audience, however, does not recognise the distinct parts within the texture. In the contrary, disoriented by the interlocking technique (the instrumental parts are connected together like cog-wheels to create a dense, melodic and rhythmic composite) the audience may actually perceive several, seemingly independent melodic-rhythmic patterns in diverse pitch areas: these have been referred to as inherent patterns. These perceived patterns are not played by any single musician, but they do exist within the combined parts, and it is the intention of the composer that we hear them.
Gerhard Kubik: Africa and the Blues (University Press of Mississippi, Jackson 1999)
Gerhard Kubik: Theory of African Music - Vol.1 (Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 1994)
Paul Oliver: Savannah Syncopators (Stein and Day, New York 1970)
Julie Lynn Strand: The Sambla Xylophone [PhD These] (Wesleyan University, Middletown 2009)
Hugo Zemp: Senufo Balafon Music - Resound Vol 25, Nr1/2 and 3/4 (Indiana University 2006)