Fana Soro began playing the balafon, West Africa’s big wooden xylophone, when he was just seven years old, and by the age of 11 he was a skilled musician.
At 19 he joined the prestigious Ballet National de Cote d’Ivoire and devoted his life for nine years to music and dance touring England, Holland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Yugoslavia, Martinique and West Africa.
Soro decided to move to Norway in 1990 where he worked for the Ministry of Culture as a cultural ambassador in schools while also touring with his band Super Djembe Kan around Europe.
He moved to Canada in 1997 and ran a dance studio in New Westminster, while also forming Masabo, a traditional West African group. They have performed music with dance and stories to more than 2,000 schools across the country.
Masabo will perform at the Errington Hall Saturday evening, Nov. 24 and Soro will also perform at the McMillan Arts Centre (the MAC) with African storyteller Jean-Pierre Makosso from 2 — 3 p.m. the same day.
When Soro moved to the lower mainland, local music event co-ordinator Valerie Dare was working in that area with teachers at Britannia Secondary to develop world music curriculum, and she thought he would fit nicely into the world music program at the school. He quickly became the most sought after artist-in-residence in the Vancouver district, she said.
“Fana is one of the most accomplished and committed artists I’ve ever known. He sets extraordinarily high standards for himself,” she said.
Soro, who now lives in Ottawa, will be playing the balafon at both of his shows in the area Saturday, among other instruments. The balafon is like a marimba or xylophone, but is made from all natural products. Gourds (hollowed-out shells of fruit) are attached to the wooden keys and patched with spider egg sacs. These vibrate when the keys are struck.
The balafon is a tonal instrument used to communicate and the tunings vary from village to village in Africa, just as dialects do.
Fana was trained to represent his people at the occasions he played the instrument, and the sound he creates replicates the sound of his language as closely as possible.
At the MAC, Soro and Makosso will entertain with music and storytelling, and people are welcome to join in.
“Hopefully everyone will have energy,” Soro said.
At the Errington Hall the concert will feature Soro, Makosso and two other accomplished musicians. Again Soro said people should come ready to join in the fun.
“With the traditional music you don’t just sit and watch, you have to stand up and move, so hopefully Parksville will understand that and we’ll do good teamwork together,” he said.
The show at the MAC is $10 for adults, $5 for children and under 12 are free. For more information visit www.mcmillanartscentre.com or call 250-248-8185.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for the Errington Hall show and it starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at Cranky Dog Music in Parksville, Heaven on Earth in Qualicum Beach and at the Errington Store. Children under 12 years are $10 at the door and children under 5 years are free. For more on Soro visit www.masabo-fana-soro.blogspot.com.