X86.1903 One-key xylophone

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One-key xylophone
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Luba peoples
Wood, gourd, resin, hide, fiber
H: 43.8 cm (H: 17.2 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Helen and Dr. Robert Kuhn. X86.1908


The function of this unusual instrument is not clear. It may serve roles similar to the Luba lamellophone as a device for recalling court histories, songs, and praises. The head probably represents a female ancestor as heads do on kasanji. Large Luba balafons with multiple keys are closely linked to the royal courts, and their tones are thought to summon spirits that safeguard the kingdom.

Source: DjeDje, J. C. (1999). “Turn Up the Volume! A Celebration of African Music”, Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 252