Gert Kilian - Percussion Unlimited

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"Sometimes it's difficult to transcribe, you're not sure whether the rythmic base is binary or ternary - because it's often both at the same time"

Interview Gert Kilian with Jimmy Braun

The balafon, enigmatic and shrouded in mystery, is an important cultural component of many African countries. Their musicians carry its sound all the way to our European climes. Gert Kilian is one of those who have been captivated, enchanted and never let go. A rock and blues drummer at the age of twelve, later a multi-percussionist and world musician 20 LP / CDs with Orexis, Drumpact, Les Zoulousains, Argile & african heat, Looping, Kâla, Voyages Africains, this has turned him into a balafola - a balafon player. We therefore decided to put him a few questions about him and his instrument.

How did you come to the balafon, how did you discover it?

I discovered the balafon during my first trip to Africa, in a village called Kati near Bamako / Mali. Its sound fascinated me and I intuitively understood at once that this instrument was the ideal melodic percussion instrument for me, on which I could express both rhythm and melody, or even better: rhythmic melody and melodic rhythm.

Reading your biography, one can see that you have travelled a lot - to India, Australia, Africa, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago. Which culture has impressed you the most?

The African culture! I have travelled to Africa thirteen times since 1980, mainly to Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and in particular to the Sikasso region (Mali), where the Senoufo ethnic group continues to produce virtuoso balafonists. Later, I travelled several times to Konsankuy, the home village of my friend and colleague Aly Keita. There and then in Bobo Dioulasso / Burkina Faso, I organised international balafon workshops for my advanced students from France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland.

Which African balafonist has influenced you the most in your work?

Mahama Konaté from Bobo Dioulasso / Burkina Faso from the group Farafina. He also plays as a guest on my record "percussion unlimited" with my former group Drumpact. Equally important for me, however, is Aly Keita, a virtuoso border cross musician between tradition and modernity, with whom I released the double DVD "The Balafon with Aly Keita & Gert Kilian" for the French publisher Philippe Nasse directing "Le-Salon-de-Musique", with a learning method, a documentary film that we shot in Mali, and a book I wrote about the balafon.




Mallets meet Balafon

The West African balafon is one of the historical ancestors of the mallet instruments marimba, xylophone and vibraphone. The characteristic playing style of the balafon is based on "two-way coordination" between left and right hand. The structure of traditional balafon music is based on interlocking patterns, composed of two, three or four patterns and a melody placed on top of them. In addition, there is the solo part, either with an ostinato comping hand (R or L) or freely improvised solo phrases. The experience with this music provides inspiring input for mallet playing. Gert Kilian gives workshops, masterclasses and band coaching for all mallet instruments.


Echos auf Bandcoachings / Workshops mit Gert Kilian

"Gert Kilian conveys what is given too little consideration in our culture - rhythm feeling, spontaneous creation, listening and reacting to each other and... The joy of playing!"

Joachim Nestel - Percussion teacher at the Böblingen music school


"I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to Gert for his inspirational balafon session with students from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Gert is a wonderful musician and inspirational teacher."

Daryl Pratt - Chair of Percussion SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC The University of Sydney


"The Christchurch workshop with Gert Kilian was an afternoon with excellent balance between education (musical and historical) and entertainment. We learnt poly-motions, poly-rhythms and many (poly) ideas for pentatonic performance ideas. Highly recommended!"

Brett Painter - Principal Percussion - Christchurch Symphony Orchestra / New Zealand Director - Pandemonium Percussion



National Percussion Festival - Paris 2024

Gert Kilian was the guest of honour in 2024 at the Convention - Festival National de Percussion in Paris at the Charles Münch Conservatoire. AFPercu (Association Française pour la Percussion) organises this twice-yearly event with courses, conferences, workshops and master classes.

Sanata, a version of the traditional piece from the mandingo country (West Africa) at the festival's closing concert with Sandra Valette's students on marimbas.


Let's meet up in the Mandingue country in West Africa. I'll be telling you about its History, legends and tales, following the footsteps of the balafon in Mali, ancestor of the world's xylophones. A stop-over in the Dogon country with its cosmogony and woven words. A few photos illustrate the journey. I'll be revealing the secrets of the balafon to you, not just through demonstration, but also through your active participation in the body percussion.





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