The Music of
Mali is, like that of most African nations, ethnically
diverse, but one influence predominates; that of the ancient Mali
Empire of the Mandinka (from c. 1230 to c. 1600). Mande people
(Bambara, Maninke, Soninke) make up 50% of the country's population,
other ethnic groups include the Fula (17%), Gur-speakers 12%, Songhai
Moors (10%) and another 5%, including
Mali is divided into eight regions; Gao, Kayes, Koulikoro,
Mopti, Ségou, Sikasso, Tombouctou and
Bamako (the eighth region,
Kidal, was created in 1991).
Salif Keita, a noble-born Malian who became a singer, brought
Mande-based Afro-pop to the world, adopting traditional garb and
styles. He says he sings to express himself, however, and not as a
traditional jeli or praise-singer. The kora players Sidiki Diabaté
Toumani Diabaté have also achieved some international prominence
as have the late Songhai/Fula guitarist
Ali Farka Touré
Ali Farka Touré and his
Afel Bocoum and Vieux Farka Touré, the
Tinariwen, the duo
Amadou et Mariam
Amadou et Mariam and Oumou Sangare.
Mory Kanté saw
major mainstream success with techno-influenced Mande music.
While internationally Malian popular music has been known more for its
male artists, domestically, since at least the 1980s, female singers
Kandia Kouyaté are ubiquitous on radio and television, in
markets and on street-corner stalls. Fans follow them for the
moralizing nature of their lyrics, the perception that they embody
tradition and their role as fashion trend-setters.
1 National music
2 Traditional music
2.2 Mande music
4 Fula music
5 Songhay music
6 20th century popular music
8 External links
The national anthem of
Mali is "Le Mali". After independence under
Modibo Keita orchestras were state-sponsored and the
government created regional orchestras for all seven then regions.
From 1962 the orchestras competed in the annual "Semaines Nationale de
la Jeunesse" ("National Youth Weeks") held in Bamako. Keita was ousted
by a coup d'état in 1968 organized by General Moussa
Most of Keita's support for the arts was cancelled, but the "Semaines
Nationale de la Jeunesse" festival, renamed the "Biennale Artistique
et Culturelle de la Jeunesse", was held every 2 years starting in
1970. Notable and influential bands from the period included the first
electric dance band, Orchestre Nationale A, and the Ensemble
Instrumental National du Mali, comprising 40 traditional musicians
from around the country and still in operation today.
Mali's second president, Moussa Traoré, discouraged Cuban music in
favor of Malian traditional music. The annual arts festivals were held
biannually and were known as the Biennales. At the end of the 1980s
public support for the Malian government declined and praise-singing's
support for the status quo and its political leaders became
unfashionable. The ethnomusicologist Ryan Skinner has done work on the
relationship of music and politics in contemporary Mali.
The Malinké, Soninke - Sarakole, Dyula and Bambara peoples form the
core of Malian culture, but the region of the
Mali Empire has been
extended far to the north in present-day Mali, where
Tuareg and Maure
peoples continue a largely nomadic desert culture. In the east
Songhay, Bozo and
Dogon people predominate, while the Fula people,
formerly nomadic cattle-herders, have settled in patches across the
nation and are now as often village and city dwelling, as they are
over much of West Africa.
Historical interethnic relations were facilitated by the Niger River
and the country's vast savannahs. The Bambara, Malinké, Sarakole,
Dogon and Songhay are traditionally farmers, the Fula, Maur, and
Tuareg herders and the Bozo are fishers. In recent years, this linkage
has shifted considerably, as ethnic groups seek diverse,
nontraditional sources of income.
Further information: Griot
Mali's literary tradition is largely oral, mediated by jalis reciting
or singing histories and stories from memory. Amadou Hampâté
Bâ, Mali's best-known historian, spent much of his life recording the
oral traditions of his own Fula teachers as well as those of Bambara
and other Mande neighbors. The jeliw (sing. jeli, fem. jelimusow,
French griot) are a caste of professional musicians and orators,
sponsored by noble patrons of the horon class and part of the same
caste as craftsmen (nyamakala).
They recount genealogical information and family events, laud the
deeds of their patron's ancestors and praise their patrons themselves,
as well as exhorting them to behave morally to ensure the honour of
the family name. They also act as dispute mediators. Their position is
highly respected and they are often trusted by their patrons with
privileged information since the caste system does not allow them to
rival nobles. The jeli class is endogamous, so certain surnames are
held only by jeliw: these include Kouyaté, Kamissoko, Sissokho,
Soumano, Diabaté and Koné.
Their repertoire includes several ancient songs of which the oldest
may be "Lambang", which praises music. Other songs praise ancient
kings and heroes, especially
Sunjata Keita ("Sunjata") and Tutu Jara
Lyrics are composed of a scripted refrain (donkili) and
an improvised section. Improvised lyrics praise ancestors, and are
usually based around a surname. Each surname has an epithet used to
glorify its ancient holders, and singers also praise recent and
still-living family members. Proverbs are another major component of
These are typically accompanied by a full dance band The common
instruments of the Maninka jeli ensemble are;
kora (21-24 string lute-harp, classified by the manner of playing as
well as the bridge structure)
bala (slat xylophone with small gourd resonators)
n'goni (4-7 string lute)
dununba (large mallet drum hung from one shoulder and played with a
curved stick, accompanied by a bell played with the opposite hand)
n'taman (hourglass-shaped talking drum or tension drum, large and
tabale (tall conga-shaped drum played with long, thin flexible sticks)
Music of Mali
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
The Mande people, including the Mandinka, Maninka and Bamana, have
produced a vibrant popular music scene alongside traditional folk
music and that of professional performers called jeliw (sing. jeli,
French griot) The Mande people all claim descent from the legendary
Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mande Empire. The language of
the Mande is spoken with different dialects in
Mali and in parts of
surrounding Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Senegal
and The Gambia.
The kora is by far the most popular traditional instrument. It is
similar to both a harp and a lute and can have between 21 and 25
strings. There are two styles of playing the kora; the western style
is found mostly in
Senegal and The Gambia, and is more rhythmically
complex than the eastern tradition, which is more vocally dominated
and found throughout
Mali and Guinea. Ngoni (lutes) and balafon
(xylophones) are also common.
Mande percussion instruments include the tama, djembe and dunun drums.
Jeli Lamine Soumano states: "If you want to learn the bala go to
Guinea or Mali. If you want to learn the kora go to Gambia or Mali. If
you want to learn the n'goni you have only to go to Mali." Each area
has developed a speciality instrument while still recognizing that the
roots of the related forms come from Mali.
The traditional djembe ensemble is most commonly attributed to the
Maninka and Maraka: it basically consists of one small dunun (or
konkoni) and one djembe soloist. A djembe accompanist who carries a
steady pattern throughout the piece has since been added, as have the
jeli dununba (also referred to as the kassonke dunun, names derived
from the style of playing, not the physical instruments), and the
n'tamani (small talking drum). Many ethnic groups, including the
Kassonke, the Djokarame, the Kakalo, the Bobo, the Djoula, the Susu,
and others, have historical connections with the djembe.[citation
Most vocalists are female in everyday Mande culture, partially due to
the fact that many traditional celebrations revolve around weddings
and baptisms, mostly attended by women. Several male and female
singers are world-renowned. Although it once was rare for women to
play certain instruments, in the 21st century women have broadened
their range.
Bamana-speaking peoples live in central Mali: the language is the most
common in Mali. Music is simple and unadorned, and pentatonic.
Traditional Bamana music is based on fileh (half calabash hand drum),
gita (calabash bowl with seeds or cowrie shells attached to sound when
rotated),the karignyen (metal scraper), the bonkolo drum (played with
one open hand and a thin bamboo stick), the kunanfa (large bowl drum
with cowhide head, played with the open hands, also barra or chun),
the gangan (small, mallet-struck dunun, essentially the same as the
konkoni or kenkeni played in the djembe ensemble).
The melodic instruments of the Bamana are typically built around a
pentatonic structure. The slat idiophone bala, the 6-string doson
n'goni (hunter's lute-harp) and its popular version the 6-12 string
kamel n'goni, the soku (gourd/lizard skin/horse hair violin adopted
from the Songhai, soku literally means "horse tail"), and the modern
guitar are all instruments commonly found in the Bamana repertoire.
Bamana culture is centered around Segou, Sikasso, the Wassalou region
Senegal near the border of Mali's Kayes region.
Well-known Bamana performers include Mali's first female musical
celebrity, Fanta Damba. Damba and other Bamana (and Maninka) musicians
in cities like
Bamako are known throughout the country for a style of
guitar music called
Bajourou (named after an 18th-century song
glorifying ancient king Tutu Jara). Bamana djembe ("djembe" is a
French approximation of the Maninka word, with correct English
phonetic approximation: jenbe) drumming has become popular since the
mid-1990s throughout the world. It is a traditional instrument of the
Bamana people from
Mali (This is incorrect, the instrument is a
Maninka/Maraka instrument adopted by the Bamana).
The Mandinka live in Mali,
The Gambia and
Senegal and their music is
influenced by their neighbors, especially the Wolof and Jola, two of
the largest ethnic groups in the Senegambian region. The kora is the
most popular instrument.
Maninka music is the most complex of the three Mande cultures. It is
highly ornamented and heptatonic, dominated by female vocalists and
dance-oriented rhythms. The ngoni lute is the most popular traditional
instrument. Most of the best-known Maninka musicians are from eastern
Guinea and play a type of guitar music that adapts balafon-playing
(traditional xylophone) to the imported instrument.
Maninka music traces its legend back more than eight centuries to the
time of Mansa Sunjata. In the time of
Mali Empire and his semi-mythic
rivalry with the great sorcerer-ruler Soumaoro Kante Mansa of the Susu
Sunjata sent his jeli Diakouma Doua to learn the secrets of
his rival. He finds a magical balafon, the "Soso Bala", the source of
Soumaoro's power. When Soumaoro heard Diakouma Doua play on the bala
he named him Bala Fasseke Kwate (Master of the bala). The Soso Bala
still rests with the descendents of the Kouyate lineage in Niaggasola,
Guinea, just across the modern border from Mali.
Berber music and
Tuareg people § Music
Tinariwen is thought to be the first
Tuareg electric band, active
since 1982. They played at the Eden project stage of the Live8
concert in July 2005.
The Fula use drums, the hoddu (same as the xalam, a plucked
skin-covered lute similar to the banjo) and the riti or riiti (a
one-string bowed instrument, in addition to vocal music. "Zaghareet"
or ululation is a popular form of vocal music formed by rapidly moving
the tongue sideways and making a sharp, high sound.
Sunjata forced some Fulani to settle in various regions
where the dominant ethnic groups were Maninka or Bamana. Thus, today,
we see a number of people with Fula names (Diallo, Diakite, Sangare,
Sidibe) who display Fula cultural characteristics, but only speak the
language of the Maninka or Bamana.
The Songhay are not an ethnic or a linguistic group but one that
traces its history to the
Songhai Empire and inhabits the great bend
of the mid River Niger. Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali Farka Toure, has
gained popularity after playing in front of an estimated 1 billion
viewers worldwide at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He
has also been called, "the Hendrix of the Sahara", since his music
explores the affinity between West African song and Afro-American
20th century popular music
A Bwa xylophone.
After World War 2 the guitar became common throughout Africa,
partially resulting from the mixing of African, American and British
Dance bands were popular in Mali, especially the town of
Kita's orchestra led by Boureima Keita and Afro-Jazz de Ségou, the
Rail Band and Pioneer Jazz. Imported dances were popular, especially
rumbas, waltzes and Argentine-derived tangos. By the 1960s, however,
the influence of Cuban music began to rise. After independence in
1960, Malians saw new opportunities for cultural expression in radio,
television and recordings. Cuban music remained popular in Mali
throughout the 1960s and remains popular today.
Old dance bands reformed under new names as part of the roots revival
of Moussa Traoré. Especially influential bands included Tidiane
Rail Band du Buffet Hôtel de la Gare, which launched the
careers of future stars
Salif Keita and Mory Kanté, and Super Biton
Bajourou also became popular, beginning with Fanta Sacko's
Fanta Sacko, the first bajourou LP. Fanta Sacko's success set the
stage for future jelimusow stars which have been consistently popular
in Mali; the mainstream acceptance of female singers is unusual in
West Africa, and marks Malian music as unique. In 1975, Fanta Damba
became the first jelimuso to tour Europe, as bajourou continued to
become mainstream throughout Mali.
Not all bands took part in Traoré's roots revival. Les Ambassadeurs
du Motel formed in 1971, playing popular songs imported from Senegal,
Cuba and France. Les Ambassadeurs and
Rail Band were the two biggest
bands in the country, and a fierce rivalry developed. Salif Keita,
perhaps the most popular singer of the time, defected to Les
Ambassadeurs in 1972. This was followed by a major concert at which
both bands performed as part of the Kibaru (literacy) program. The
audience fell into a frenzy of excitement and unity, and the concert
is still remembered as one of the defining moments in 1970s Malian
The mid-70s also saw the formation of National Badema, a band that
played Cuban music and soon added Kasse Mady Diabaté who led a
movement to incorporate Maninka praise-singing into Cuban-style music.
Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs left for
Abidjan at the end of
the 1970s due to a poor economic climate in Mali. There, Les
Ambassadeurs recorded Mandjou, an album which featured their most
popular song, "Mandjou". The song helped make
Salif Keita a solo star.
Many of the biggest musicians of the period also emigrated—to
Abidjan, Dakar, Paris (Salif Keita, Mory Kanté), London, New York or
Chicago. Their recordings remained widely available, and these exiles
helped bring international attention to Mande music.
Les Ambassadeurs and
Rail Band continued recording and performing
under a variety of names. In 1982 Salif Keita, who had recorded with
Les Ambassadeurs' Kanté Manfila, left the band and recorded an
influential fusion album, Soro, with
Ibrahima Sylla and French
keyboardist Jean-Philippe Rykiel. The album revolutionized Malian pop,
eliminating all Cuban traces and incorporating influences from rock
and pop. By the middle of the decade, Paris had become the new capital
of Mande dance music.
Mory Kanté saw major mainstream success with
techno-influenced Mande music, becoming a #1 hit on several European
Another roots revival began in the mid-1980s. Guinean singer and kora
player Jali Musa Jawara's 1983
Yasimika is said to have begun this
trend, followed by a series of acoustic releases from Kanté Manfila
and Kasse Mady.
Ali Farka Touré
Ali Farka Touré also gained international popularity
during this period; his music is less in the jeli tradition and
resembles American blues.
The region of Wassoulou, south of Bamako, became the centre of a new
wave of dance music also referred to as wassoulou.
Wassoulou had been
developing since at least the mid-70s. Jeliw had never played a large
part in the music scene there, and music was more democratic.
The modern form of wassoulou is a combination of hunter's songs with
sogoninkun, a type of elaborate masked dance, and the music is largely
based on the kamalengoni harp invented in the late 1950s by Allata
Brulaye Sidibí. Most singers are women.
Oumou Sangaré was the first
major wassoulou star; she achieved fame suddenly in 1989 with the
release of Moussoulou, both within
Mali and internationally. Wasulu
region of southwest Mali. The soku is a traditional
string fiddle, corresponding to the Songhai n'diaraka or njarka, that
doubles the vocal melody.
Since the 1990s, although the majority of Malian popular singers are
still jelimusow, wassoulou's popularity has continued to grow.
Wassoulou music is especially popular among youth. Although western
audiences categorise wassoulou performers like
Oumou Sangaré as
feminists for criticizing practices like polygamy and arranged
Mali they are not viewed in that light because their
messages, when they do not support the status quo of gender roles, are
subtly expressed and ambiguously worded, thus keeping them open to a
variety of interpretations and avoiding direct censure from Malian
^ http://ias.umn.edu/2012/10/11/skinner-ryan/[permanent dead link]
^ Milet & Manaud, p128.
^ a b Velton, p28.
^ Turino, pgs. 172 - 173; Bensignor, Fran&ccedi;ois, Guus de
Klein, and Lucy Duran, "Hidden Treasure", "The Backyard Beats of
Gumbe" and "West Africa's Musical Powerhouse" in the Rough Guide to
World Music, pgs. 437 - 439, pgs. 499 - 504 and pgs. 539 - 562;
Manuel, Popular Musics, pg. 95; World Music Central Archived
2006-07-11 at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-03-12. Retrieved
Duran, Lucy. "West Africa's Musical Powerhouse". 2000. In Broughton,
Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla
(Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp
539–562. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
Hoffman, Barbara G. Griots at War: Conflict, Conciliation and
Mande. 2000. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Mali connection", by Banning Eyre, from Boston Phoenix, September
A discography of Malian music -
10 Malian musicians you should know - Flavorwire
(in French) Audio clips: Traditional music of Mali. Musée
d'ethnographie de Genève. Accessed November 25, 2010.
Audio clips - traditional music of Mali. French National Library.
Accessed November 25, 2010.
Radio 3 Audio (180 minutes): Music of
Mali 1989. Accessed November
Radio 3 Audio (75 minutes): Festival in the Desert 2003. Accessed
November 25, 2010.
Radio 3 Audio (75 minutes): Mopti, Timbuktu and
Les Escrocs and Toumani Diabate. Accessed November 25, 2010.
Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Ali Farka Toure. Accessed November 25,
Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes):
Mali Bambara Blues. Accessed November
Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Oumou Sangare. Accessed November 25,
Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Neba Solo, Abdoulaye Diabate, Habib
Koite. Accessed November 25, 2010.
Radio 3 Audio (60 minutes): Amadou and Mariam. Accessed November
Audio clip: N'goni. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25,
Audio clip: Kora. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25, 2010.
Audio clip: Sinbi. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25,
Audio clip: Jenbe. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25,
Audio clip: Yabaraw. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25,
Audio clip: Kònkòni. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25,
Audio clip: N'tama (talking drum). National Museum of Mali. Accessed
November 25, 2010.
Audio clip: Bala. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November 25, 2010.
Audio clip: Kamalenkòni. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November
Audio clip: Maninka Bala. National Museum of Mali. Accessed November
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