Xalam

Name: Xalam.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Many, Gambia, Senegal.
Region: West Africa.

Description: The xalam is a two stringed fretless lute that is a very close analogue of the Malian N’goni in its construction. Thus, suggesting a likely relationship between the two. The xalam also bears a similarity to the akonting. Someone who plays the xalam is called a xalamkat a word composed of the verbal form of xalam, meaning “to play the xalam”, and the agentive suffix -kat, thus meaning “one who xalams”.

Distribution: The xalam is commonly played in Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Niger, Northern Nigeria, Northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Western Sahara; it is also known in other languages as bappe, diassare, hoddu [Pulaar / Fulani], koliko [Gurunsi], kologo [Frafra], komsa, kontigi [Hausa], koni, konting [Mandinka], molo [Songhay / Zarma], ndere, ngoni [Bambara], and tidinit [Hassaniyya and Berber].

Tuning: The second tuning [ci kow or high] uses the same string intervals but the fundamental is placed a minor second above the higher melody string. Meaning that the open main strings now play the role of 3 and 6, with the supplementary strings acting as 3´ and 4#. The highest supplementary string usually being ignored. In the third tuning [ardin], the fundamental is a minor third above the lowest main string and the main strings are tuned 6 and 2, with supplementary strings tuned to 5 and 1´. The third supplementary string is either ignored or is tuned to 6 or 2´.

When playing in an ensemble, the ardin xalam main strings are tuned to a minor third below the cu suuf xalam and the ci kow xalam is tuned a major third above the ci suuf xalam to ensure that the fundamentals of each xalam coincide. Thus, if the ci suuf xalam’s lowest note were C, the ardin’s lowest note would be a low A and the ci kow xalam’s lowest note would be E.

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