This is a full playlist of the i4Africa series on Musical Traditions in Mali. The following ten vignettes are mini-documentaries about traditional music and dance in Mali in the words of practicing artists and musicians.
This series was made possible by a grant from the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation. A special thanks goes out to the Public Affairs Department at the US Embassy in Bamako.
“In past times, I would not point this horsetail at a person who did not make blood flow.” The Bolon (Warrior’s harp) is the instrument of the Warrior Kings of Mandé. While other ethnic groups play a similar instrument, according to Ibrahim Traoré, he is the only person playing the Mandinka Bolon in Mali today.
Function of Tradition: The bolon is a warrior’s harp and was played to give courage to men going to the battlefront. It was played after the battle to celebrate the victory, and during the execution of captives who refused to surrender and swear allegiance to their new masters.
Reason for disappearance: The royal wars no longer exist. Those who ruled are no longer in power. The traditional social systems of Mandé have been replaced through colonialism, independence, and democracy. Those who had the power are now without. It is suggested that the individuals who worked with the colonial powers were actually people of caste, and have replaced the true nobility. Learning to play the bolon is not easy. The world of the bolon is dangerous. One must be well educated in the knowledge of plants and spells in order to navigate safely.
The masks of Fadiobougou, In the cultural zone of Djitoumou, serve many purposes. For the Bambara, just hearing the word Djinn is terrifying. The masks imitate things found in the bush. After seeing the imitations, peoples knowledge of it can stop them from panicking. The experience can help you overcome your fear. In the fall, if there has been a good harvest, the village prepares the masks to organize the celebration. On that day, everyone is peaceful and and they forget all their grudges. Both old and young respect each other. The masks bring people together, and promote social cohesion.
Function of tradition: If there is a good a harvest, the people organize the celebration. This celebration promotes peace and social cohesion. The masks prepare people for what they may encounter in the bush, whether it’s the supernatural djinn, or a wild animal. The encounter between the villagers and the masks teach them how to react when the find themselves confronted with an actual situation.
Reason for disappearance: Today, many people are more interested in music from other regions like Wassoulou, and other forms of music, both national and international, that they hear on the radio, television, and Internet. Among the youth, hip-hop is far more popular than traditional music. Nigerian pop music has also become very popular in Mali.
Tamasheq cultural group Ekanzam are from Menaka, Mali, in the region of Gao, and the cultural zone of Azawak. This area has been at the center of conflict in Mali. Affected by clashes between the Malian army and separatist rebels, and the recent occupation of jihadists and crime cartels, the Noir Kel Tamasheq make up a significant percentage of Northern Mali’s population, and are struggling to make their voices heard for a peaceful, just, and unified country.
Function of tradition: During the rainy season when grass is in abundance, the nomads gather together and make a celebration. The animals have given birth, and the celebrations begin. This traditional music and dance began with the Sheppards. Many of the dance steps represent the activities and movements of the herders. In the songs that the women create, they ask the men to stop the damage they are doing, because it is their sons and husbands who will die. The men are praised in a way that will help them to reflect on the harm they are doing.
Reason for disappearance: Because of insecurity, people can no longer celebrate at night. They are obliged to put out their fires and stay quiet for fear of being attacked. Many people from Azawak have been displaced, which interrupts all aspects of society. Desertification has also had disruptive impact on life and cultural activities in the sahel.
“When something’s time is over, it is lost. We are the last village that still plays the Douga. It is not played anywhere else. Is this not a change? Before it was done everywhere. If you never see this again, it’s because things have changed.” Finko Walama Diakité.
Function of tradition: After the circumcision is completed, the boys, who have now become men, are welcomed back to the village with this ceremony. The first person they greet when they leave the sacred forest is the oldest man in the village. After, the families organize a grand feast.
Reason for disappearance: All the ceremonies connected with collective circumcision have now disappeared.
Sidikiba Coulibaly plays the simbi, the Mandinka hunter’s harp. “If the simbi dissapears, when there is not one simbi player left in Mande, it will mean the end of the Mande culture. The simbi gives Mande it’s reputation.”
Function of Tradition: This Simbi is played for all major hunter’s ceremonies including initiations, deaths, and important reunions. When played for hunters, the music provokes bravery and incites hunters to perform acts of courage. Simbi players function as griots for hunters, singing their stories and recounting their exploits, reminding people of the role of the hunters throughout the history of Mandé.
Reason for Disappearance: The youth are not interested, they believe it is not a respectable career path and won’t earn them money. Parents discourage their children from learning the simbi because it is associated with animism and is not Muslim. The society that supported artists like Sidikiba has been in decline for many years. Development and globalization, secular and non-secular, are the latest wave of change affecting tradition lifestyles in Mali.
“All begins with the traditions, and all must end with the traditions.” Broulaye Doumbia has been playing djembe for the i4A children’s dance troupe since the project began several years ago.
Instruments 4 Africa is seeking funding to keep children in school and provide them with a quality academic education and training in the traditional arts of Mali. In 2012, we started a remedial tutoring program, and in December 2014 we have completed construction of our remedial education center & dance Paiyotte in Sabalibougou, Bamako. To donate please go to http://ecbiz172.inmotionhosting.com/~i4afri5/donate/ or contact us at email@example.com
“The sound of the djembe is sorcery.” Filmed in the cultural region of Wassoulou, our fourth short film features the Sigi, the wild buffalo mask from the village of Nioguebougoula, in the cercle of Yanfolila.
Embedded in the songs, stories and ceremonies that are interpreted by artists and accompanied by traditional instruments, are lessons that advise or remind people about what is important in life. They explain the origins of inter ethnic cooperation and family ties, and dictate appropriate behavior in disputes and reconciliation strategies.