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The final piece of the whole course is Yiri, by the group Koko, who are from Burkino Faso.

12. Yiri - Koko (GCSE Music Edexcel)

Very basic facts on...'Yiri' - by KokoFrom 'Burkina Faso - Balafons et Tambours d'Afrique'Set Work 12 for GCSE Music EdexcelFrom Area Of Study 4 - World Musi...

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Yiri by Koko on Grooveshark

Features of African Music

Although this is a bit of a generalisation, there are two distinct styles of African music: the sound of north African music is heavily influenced by the Middle East, whereas music south of the Sahara desert has a totally different sound. It is this sound that is explored in this piece by the percussion and vocal group, Koko.

The following are typical features of sub-Saharan African music, and are all present our Set Work:

All of this music is passed down from generation to generation using an oral tradition (as is the case with Rag Desh). Much of the music is associated with different tribes, and would be used to mark different occasions during the year, or during people’s lives – anything from rainy season to weddings.

  • Rhythmic ostinatos, which loop in the drum parts over and over.
  • These patterns often interlock, with the impression of a continuous rhythm being created by joining together two or three distinct patterns.
  • Syncopation is common in the rhythm patterns.
  • The drummers are led by a master drummer (a bit like a conductor would lead an orchestra).
  • The music is tonal – although their system of notation wouldn’t rely on them writing melodic patterns down – music is passed on using an oral tradition. Older generations teach younger generations.
  • Singing uses a call and response texture/melodic pattern – a solo singer sings a short phrase, which is then imitated by a group of voices, singing homophony (chords) or monophony – a single unison response. All of the responses in this Set Work are in unison (therefore monophonic).
  • Sometimes other melodic instruments are used to create further short ostinatos over the top of the rhythmic patterns. Again these are tonal.

Musical Features of Yiri


Yiri uses the following instruments:

Untuned percussion: djembe – shaped like a wine goblet, with a skin on top; donno – hourglass ‘talking drum’; dundun – double headed drum with a skin on either end.

Playing Techniques

This is a very common question on the listening paper, but is relatively easy. The djembe and donno are both played with the hand, whereas the dundun is played using curved sticks.

The image on this webpage shows djembes and a donno, and also has some good background information about African drumming in general.

Tuned percussion: the balaphon is the only tuned instrument that appears in this piece. It is the central African version of a xylophone. They are made in different sizes so they can play in different octaves.

Playing Techniques

It is played using two sticks. It is a melodic instrument, and not often used to play chords. As the instrument can’t create a long sustained sounds, you perform long notes by playing a roll. You can hear this really clearly at the start.

Voices: in this piece, all the voices are male. There is one lead singer which calls, and all the other voices respond in unison. The response is usually an exact copy of the call.

Sub-Saharan African music is tonal, and this piece is built on a series of diatonic melodies. All of the balaphon music and vocal lines are diatonic. They move mainly by step. There is no harmony at all in this piece.

Rhythm and Tempo
The music has a strong, regular and fast pulse, after the slow introduction. The drums have interlocking and syncopated rhythmic patterns, which are all repeated ostinato patterns. Once the drum patterns start, they don’t break at all until the final section of the piece in the last few bars.

There are two different aspects to the texture:

The drum texture is polyrhythmic – lots of different interlocking rhythms over the top of each other.

The melodic lines are a mixture of monophonic and heterophonic textures. (Heterophonic texture is where two or more parts perform slightly different versions of the same melody at the same time – this applies to the balafon parts, and not the singing.)

There is no set structure as such, in terms of an order of letters, but this diagram below gives a good indication of the varying lengths of sections and a brief description of the music within them.

Blue boxes – balafons
Green boxes – vocals
Red boxes – drums
Black boxes – time line


If the image is too small to read, then try clickinghere to download it as a Word document – you could print it out then and use it in your revision.

To practice and improve your understanding of the piece, you should try choosing a section of the music and, using DR G SMITH, try to make at least one comment for each of the significant musical ideas in the piece.


As with all the pieces, there is a three-way process to learning everything you need to know about the piece:

  • Know the basics (C) – title, composer, key, time signature, instrumentation etc. This needs learning to start with.
  • Understand the detail (B/A) – the technical details of the piece, and how they relate to DR G SMITH. This needs you to have written up all the detail onto your score. Listening to the piece lots whilst following through the score is what is needed here.
  • Hear the detail (A/A*) – being able to recognise the sound of all the technical language in the pieces, with no score in front of you. Listening to the piece without the score is what you need to do here.

This checklist document should help you with this process.

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