Recording Studio: Magical Music of Mali

Recording Studio: Music of Mali is dominated by forms derived from the ancient Mande Empire. The Mande people make up most of the country’s population, and their musicians, professional performers called jeliw (sing. jeli, French griot), have produced a vibrant popular music scene alongside traditional folk music. Influences also come from the hundreds of ethnic groups surrounding Mali, as well as Moorish and European musical forms.

Recording Studio: Mande music

The Mande people are divided into various groups based on language. They all claim descent from the legendary warrior Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mande Empire. The Mandeka kan, language of the people of 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 most common dialects of Mandeka kan are Bamanan kan and Djoula kan. Djoula kan, a sub-dialect of Bamanan kan, is spoken by descendants of Bamanan people who settled mainly in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso through trade or the expansion of the Mande Empire and the Bamanan and Kenedougou kingdoms. Djoula which means trader in Bamanan, and kan means language. The Djoula kan dialect was born from the influence of local languages on Bamanankan, which is itself a Mandekan dialect. As local people in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso called the travelling traders by their trade name (Djoula), they also used the same name to identify the language they spoke (Djoula kan). Mande music remains a very important aspect of Malian culture. One confusing aspect of the Mande groups is the integration of Fula people (French: Peuls; Fula: Fulɓe; Bambara: Fulaw) into Mande culture. The Mansa Sunjata forced some of these pastoral herders 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.

Recording Studio: Maninka

Maninka music traces its roots back more than eight centuries to a folkloric epoch at the time of the great Mansa Sunjata during the great Mande-centered Mali Empire, and his semi-mythic rivallry with ruler Soumaoro Kante. Mansa Sunjata sent his jeli (modern day historian/musician/orator), or advisor, Diakouma Doua, to learn the secrets of his rival Soumaoro of the Susu people. During this encounter he finds a recording studio instrument now known as the “Soso Bala” (believed to be the semi-magical first Balafon). In jeli folklore this instrument is said to have been the source of the great sorcerer Soumaoro’s power. When Soumaoro heard the beautiful music that Diakouma played on the bala (currently referred to as a balafon, fon was added by Occidentals) Soumaoro 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.

Recording Studio: Diatonic Music

Maninka music is often mistakenly labeled diatonic. Actually, Maninka uses multiple tunings, both major and minor, as well as some “semi-tone” scales. Adherence to note relationships (not writing), decades of ear training and transpositions, that enables the Maninka musician to easily adjust to other styles, tunings, and repertoires of music. Maninka music is a major part of the African roots of American blues music.