You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Music

Neba Solo carries forth musical traditions of Mali

Ingrid Monson, a Harvard jazz scholar and ethnomusicologist with the lofty title of Quincy Jones Professor of African-American Music, owns a collection of balafons — the West African instrument that looks like an oversized, rustic xylophone, with gourds fixed under the wooden keys to supply resonance. They come from her research trips to Mali, where the balafon has a long history as a traditional music mainstay.

Her choice of balafon, however, is one that jelis, or griots — the hereditary musician caste closely associated with Malian tradition — do not favor. Their balafon, the one of the great medieval Mande empire and its heirs, is built on a heptatonic (7-note) scale. Monson’s are of the humble pentatonic (5-note) variety, a country cousin long scorned in Mali’s cultural elite.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week