‘Yiri’ by Koko Analysis – African Music – Anthology of Music


Several common elements can be identified in the different types of African music, ranging from the drumming to the singing and instrumental pieces. These elements are also heard throughout Yiri.

  • Repetition – The restatement of a section of music. This might just be a few notes or a whole section.
  • Improvisation – The music is made up spontaneously without the use of written musical notation. With Yiri, the music was later noted by a recording which is known as transcription.
  • Polyphonic texture– This is where there are two or more parts playing different melodies at the same time creating a multi-layered texture.
  • Call and response – Where a soloist sings or ‘calls’ and is followed by a group answering phrase (response).

Common Features of African Songs

  • Basic form of all songs is ‘call and response’.
  • Melodies are usually short and simple and repeated over and over. This is known as an ostinato.
  • Melodies can be changed at will by other singers so that we end up with a theme and then variations on that theme.
  • Performers often improvise new melodies while others continue the original melody creating a polyphonic texture.

Instruments of Africa
There are many different instruments in African music and they vary from region to region. The many different types of drum are called membranophones (because they have a skin). The other main types of instruments can be categorises as shown below:

Idiophones (resonant/solid)

  • Rattlers (shakers) 
  • Bells
  • Mbira (thumb piano)
  • Xylophones or balaphones.
  • Clap sticks
  • Slit gongs
  • Stamping tubes
Aerophones (wind)
  • Flutes (bamboo, horn)
  • Ocarinas
  • Panpipes
  • Horns from animal tusks
  • Trumpets wood or metal
  • Pipes being single or double reeds
  • Whistle
Chordophones (strings) 
  • Zithers 
  • Lutes (kora)
  • Lyres
  • Musical bows
In Yiri, the instruments used are the balaphone which is similar to a xylophone and is made up of wooden bars, the djembe which is a drum shaped like a goblet and played with the hands and the talking drum that is played with a hooked stick and can be used to imitate speech by creating different pitches and slides.
A Background look on ‘Yiri’
In Yiri, there six musicians each dedicated to a different instrument:
  • Madou Kone – vocals, balaphone and flute.
  • Sydou Traore – vocals and balaphone.
  • Jacouba Kone – djembe
  • Francois Naba – vocals, tam-tam, dundun and maracas.
  • Keresse Sanou – talking drum
  • and Tidiane Hema who does vocals and plays the maracas.

This piece is from Burkino Faso, which is a landlocked nation situated in West Africa. It is surrounded on all side by other countries. Renamed by President Thomas Sankara in 1984, Burkino translates as ‘men of integrity’ and Faso means ‘father’s house’ and its inhabitants are called Burkinabe.

The themes in music from the region of Burkino Faso conjure up some of mankind’s greatest battles in life, including the fight for survival and looking after the enviroment. In addition, the music focuses on creation, community celebrations and friendship.
There are three clear strands in Yiri:
  • The balaphone ostinato – in combination, these produce a complex polyphonic texture.
  • The drum ostinato – in this piece they play a relentless one-bar pattern.
  • The vocal line – this is a simple pentatonic call and response structure.
Here are the main points about Yiri by Koko:
  • The tempo stays unvaried.
  • The beat is regular and unvarying providing a good beat.
  • The drum ostinatos persist throughout the music.
  • The dynamics are largely unvaried. 
  • Yiri is in the key of G flat major and is hexatonic meaning it is based on a size-note scale.
  • The balaphones tend to play short patterns from high to low emphasising G and D. They have solo breaks in between choruses which are more vituosic.
  • It is in 4/4 which is four crochet beats to every bar. However it does revert to other metres in a few bars such as 6/4 and 3/4.
  • Syncopation is used mostly in the vocals and balaphone sections.
  • The drums play a rhythmic ostinato which lasts throughout the piece consisting of a quaver and two semi-quavers played over and over again.
  • There is monophonic texture at the beginning which leads on to be heterophonic.
  • Balaphone at beginning uses tremolos and grace notes as decoration.


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