Seguenon Koné, a master balafonist from Ivory Coast, once toured with Jimmy Buffett. Now he's the creative director of Le Ballet Ivoire Spectacle, an African music and dance ensemble that currently performs five shows a day at Walt Disney World in Orlando. His new disc, Afro Beat, showcases traditional rhythms, original music, and lyrics in Senoufo. He sings and plays most of the indigenous African instruments on this unplugged adventure, from the dialogic djembes and djun djuns to the clamorous shekeres and castanets, and enlists the help of a bassist, kora player, saxophonist, singers, and additional percussionists when needed.
The balafon's keys are made of fired hardwood, with hollow calabashes the size of oranges underneath them. The sounds it makes vary widely. In "Keito," Koné draws pillowy torrents from it, while on "Bayaga," a descriptive number about the beaded waistbands worn by African women (as in cowrie shells and colored glass with wire and screw clasps, not the fourteen-carat gold and diamond charmers sold in American stores), he makes it produce a playfully whistling tune similar to a flute. Invariably, each of his balafon solos is a brain massage.