Say And Play

Jon Balke, Batagraf

Batagraf is a percussion think tank, a constellation of players researching the outer parameters of rhythmic music. Inspired by techniques and traditions from West African Wolof music, the group explores new polyphonic textures. The relation between language and rhythm is constantly being investigated in Batagraf, the collective centered around the collaboration between Helge Norbakken and Jon Balke. Norbakken has developed his personal approach to percussion, inspired by African drum music traditions, but also developed in new directions through collaborations with numerous artists. He has been a member of Balke’s Magnetic North and Siwan projects and has also played on ECM recordings with Jon Hassell and Miki N’Doye. While best-known as pianist and composer-arranger, Jon Balke has also been a devoted percussion player since the early days of Eolén, Afro-jazz group of the early 80s. “Drumming is speaking” says Balke, “and language is a miracle in all its manifestations.” On “Say and Play” Batagraf are inspired by the rich traditions of Wolof, Yoruba, Cuban and Arabic music, most particularly the inner energy and creativity of these cultures.

Featured Artists Recorded

2009, Various Locations

Original Release Date


  • 1Baka #65
    (Jon Balke)
  • 2Everyday Music
    (Jon Balke)
  • 3Riddle #1
    (Jon Balke)
  • 4Calmly
    (Jon Balke, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen)
  • 5Vjup
    (Jon Balke)
  • 6Tonk
    (Jon Balke)
  • 7The Wind Calmer
    (Jon Balke, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen)
  • 8Riddle #2
    (Jon Balke)
  • 9Azulito
    (Jon Balke)
  • 10Hundred-Handed
    (Jon Balke, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen)
  • 11One Change
    (Jon Balke)
  • 12Winds
    (Jon Balke, Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen)
  • 13GMBH
    (Helge Andreas Norbakken)
Als auf dem furiosen Debütalbum Statments Miki N´Doye eine lange Rede in Wolof hielt, liebten die Zuhörer die in der Sprache und Stimme aufleuchtenden Melodien. Man verstand kein Wort und wollte doch keinen Ton verpassen! Dieser Transfer der bakas ins Europäische gelingt Balke auf Say and Play, dem neuen Batagraf-Album, spielerisch und verwegen zugleich. So lässt er den Lyriker Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen Gedichte vortragen (wohlgemerkt im norwegischen Original), die in rhythmisch munterer Gegenläufigkeit über das asketisch-archaische Trommelwerk von Helge Norbakken und Erland Dahlen gleiten. Auch die englisch intonierten, scharfzüngigen bakas von Emilie Stoesen Christensen (der Tochter des Schlagzeugpioniers Jon Christensen) befeuern mit funky-funkelnden Tagtraumtexten den Chor der Sabar-Trommeln und Talking Drums. Schnöde Weltumarmunsgesten, landläufiger Jazzgesang und Fjordgeraune sind abgeschafft. Wehe, einer nennt diese Scheibe `groovy´!
Michael Engelbrecht, Die Zeit
This is drumming as conversation, it´s playful and fun, and the results make up an album that really grows on the listener and reveals new secrets with each push of that arrow button on the CD player.
Peter Bacon, The Jazz Breakfast
“Say and Play” ist eine eminent phantasievolle Musik, mit dezent eingeflochtenen Jazzspuren. Bestens plaziert zwischen allen Stühlen.
Michael Engelbrecht, Manafonistas
Six years on from “Statements”, Batagraf’s ECM debut, the collective returns with transformed personnel but unchanged priorities. Drumming as language and language harnessed as music: both aspects remain important for this “percussion think-tank” of Norwegian origin, thoroughly international in its aspirations.

“Drumming is speaking and language is a miracle, in all its manifestations” notes co-founder Jon Balke of Batagraf’s mission. “In the Orisha culture of the Yoruba in Nigeria, manifested and surviving vividly in Cuba, the Bata drum patterns symbolize sacred texts. In Arabic music the metric patterns stem from lines of poetry. In Wolof culture Bakas are small personal poems that define a drummer’s identity and purpose in life; they are also played and used as breaks or signals to alter the flow of the music.” Inspired by these rich traditions, “Say and Play” draws upon the inner energy and creativity of the cultures, as Batagraf continues to explore the relation between language and rhythms, also offering language that celebrates the rhythms of nature, as in Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen’s poetry:

a cloud answers the call of rain
and plays hundred-handed on a fern

as summer answers
the call of autumn
as the sky pulls down rain
and drums with it

Pedersen, a well-known Norwegian poet and dramatist is a recent addition to Batagraf’s mutable ranks, and he reads texts from his books Samlede dikt (Collected Poems), Geitehjerte (A Goat’s Heart), and Erfaring og forsvinning (Experience and Disappearance). English translations of texts used on “Say and Play” can be read at

Jon Balke also supplies his own stream of consciousness lyrics, ably sung by Emilie Stoesen Christensen. Emilie, daughter of veteran ECM drummer Jon Christensen, is lately gaining recognition for her work with a number of Norwegian bands, including the Oslo JazzNonett. She makes her label debut here.

Kit drummer Erland Dahlen is well known to followers of modern jazz of the north for his tenure in the groups of Nils Petter Molvaer and Eivind Aarset, including the latter’s Sonic Codex Quartet.

The core of the band, in its current incarnation, comprises Jon Balke and Helge Andreas Norbakken. Balke, author of most of the pieces here, stresses that “all the percussion layers and the final development of the music have been very much a collaboration.” Norbakken has been an important contributor to Balke projects including Siwan and the Magnetic North Orchestra, and has also been heard on ECM as a member of Jon Hassell’s group on “Last night the moon came, dropping its clothes in the street” and with Miki N’Doye on “Tuki”. Other affiliations have included extensive work with singers Mari Boine and Maria João.