Traditional instruments produce music, but they are also inextricably connected with a particular aspect of traditional life. Without the instrument, much more than a melody or rhythm is lost. The songs and stories that go along with each instrument are unique, and guide people through specific and challenging events and life transitions, e.g., birth, childhood, religious initiation and adulthood, marriage, and death. Embedded in the songs and ceremonies that are interpreted by traditional instruments are lessons on how to live. These lessons advise or remind people about what is important in life.
In West Africa, a region that has seen its fair share of turmoil, Mali has remained a largely peaceful and open society. Much of the counsel and most stories communicated by traditional music and arts recount Malian history and how the various ethnic groups in Mali learned to co-exist. Traditional stories explain the origins of interethnic cooperation and family ties, and dictate appropriate behavior in disputes and reconciliation strategies.