GCSE Music Analysis of Yiri by Koko
West African Music
Much traditional West African music is performed by professional musicians that are known as 'Griots.' Musical knowledge is passed down over generations by oral tradition.
Typical features of West African music are:
- Call-and-response, when a soloist sings or plays a phrase of music and a larger group responds to that with an answering phrase.
- Improvised melodies are frequently made up of improvised phrases.
- Repetition of rhythms, harmonies and melodies to form ostinatos.
- Layered textures are built up from independent lines that are designed to be heard together.
- Koko is a group made up of 6 professional musicians.
- They come from the country Burkina Faso.
- The word 'Yiri' means wood.
- The song might be called Yiri because all the instruments heard in it (other than the bell) are made of wood.
- Koko performed Yiri from memory and the score was made later by notating the music heard on the recording. This is otherwise known as 'transcription.'
The following 3 instruments are heard in Koko's 'Yiri':
- The djembe, a drum that is played with the hands.
- The balafon, an instrument similar to the xylophone but made up of wooden bars which are all tuned to different pitches.
- The talking drum, a drum played with a hooked stick. Talking drums can be used to imitate speech by creating different slides and pitches.
- The musicians also sing and are split into a soloist singer and a chorus.
The piece is in 3 different sections:
- The introduction, in which the balafon plays a solo using tremolo (very quick repetition of a single note).
- The main section which consists of the drums playing an ostinato and a strong clear pulse. Choruses and balafon solos alternate in this section and in the very middle there is a vocal solo in which call-and-response is used.
- The coda, in which a short phrase for balafon is played 5 times but varied slightly each time.
- The drum ostinato, first heard in the main section, is interrupted by rests and a bell is sounded to mark the end of the piece.
Melody, Harmony and Tonality
- Yiri is in the key of G♭major.
- Most of the music is hexatonic (based on a 6 note scale).
- The balafons play short patterns that fall from high to low and tend to emphasise the notes G♭ and D♭.
- During the choruses, the group sings together and, much like the balafon, they sing short, falling phrases that emphasise the G♭ and D♭ notes.
Rhythm, Metre and Tempo
- The main metre is 4/4, although there are a couple of exceptions.
- After the introduction, the rest of the piece stays at a steady pulse.
- Syncopation is used frequently throughout, especially in the vocals and balafon parts.
- Triplets are used by the vocal soloist.
- During one of the vocal solos, the balafons create cross-rhythms by playing semi-quavers in groups of 3.
- Rhythmic ostinatos are created by the drums and continue throughout the whole piece. The ostinato consists of a quaver and then 2 semi-quavers that are repeated.
Texture and Dynamics
The majority of the piece has a layered texture, however the introduction has a monophonic texture. Occasional heterophonic textures are created, for example, when the two balafons play different versions of the same tune simultaneously.
There is very little variation in dynamics in Yiri.
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