Today whilst wandering around a local market in Cancun, Mexico we met Enrique and Porfirio – marimba players. They played a song from Chiapas, where it is thought that the origins of this wonderful wooden instrument came about. Versions of this instrument from Africa i.e.. balafon came to Central America and a musician from Chiapas, expanded the original marimba to include the chromatic scale by adding another row of bars, like the black keys on the piano.
I read in one article that “It is indeed difficult to walk down any street within the state without hearing “las maderas que cantan” or what Chiapans affectionately call “the wood that sings.”
So are there any similarities with our modern day xylophone? I am glad you asked – yes. It is the same instrument with two noticeable differences. Firstly, in the Mexican tradition most of the time there will be several musicians performing on a single instrument, and secondly the instrument has a very distinctive “buzz” that is an integral part of the Mexican sound.