Name: Xalam.
Type: Chordophones > Lutes.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.312.5
Tunings: C / A / E
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 is commonly played in Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Niger, Northern Nigeria, Northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Western Sahara.

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”.

Etymology: 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.

Xalam Tunings
Names Tunings
  C A E

In the third tuning [ardin] the fundamental is a minor third above; the lowest main string and the main strings are tuned to the intervals of 6 and 2. With supplementary strings tuned to the intervals 5 and 1´. The third supplementary string is either ignored or is tuned to intervals of 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 C the following strings are the ardin / middle string is tuned in equivalent to the middle 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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