Portland, Oregon is a hotbed of African marimba bands. All of the bands on this sampler disc are students of Kite Giedraitis, who has himself studied with African musicians and has been playing marimba since 1987 and teaching since 1989. Most are informal friends and family-type aggregations and nearly all the instruments are homemade – often using white PVC pipes for the resonators under the wooden keys. Balafon is really the proper name for these instruments. There are vocals on some of the tunes, such as the Wimoweh opener, and a couple other tracks will be familiar – such as In the Mood! and Jamaica Farewell. Camara is a genuine griot from Guinea who adds an authentic touch to the music-making.
The massed sound of four or five of these mallet instruments is infectious and highly addictive. There are a few percussion instruments as well, and the occasional flute. The bass marimbas in most of the bands have such lengthy resonators they often require shorter players to stand on a stool in order to reach the keys. The timbre of the instruments is rather different from Mexican marimbas and certainly from the similar classical orchestral instruments. Lovers of steel bands would go for this sound for sure.
– John Sunier