Tag Archives: griot

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ali Farka Toure – Heygana

Heygana is the opening track of Ali Farka Toure’s 1991 album The River. Its another example of the seamless gelling of European folk and Malian blues. Like Fats Kaplin’s fiddle muddling within a Tinariwen song, Ali Farka Toure’s music happily accommodates the harmonica of Rory McLeod.

The similarities in McLeod’s career and that of many Malian musicians does not end there. Often, griot’s have made their way onto the Hub as Song of the Week (though, Ali Farka Toure does not come from this musical background). The traditional function for a griot – amongst many other things – is the development and retelling of  stories, both factual and symbolic, to form the core of West African oral history. The songs and poetry they write is more important than their aesthetic value, carrying with them great political and cultural significance. Now its this unique to West Africa?  No, not really. But is it only an ancient phenomenon? Maybe not, either. This is where we bring Rory back in, with a selection of quotes about his work:

“Intimate, revealing, political and powerful.”

“When he sings his songs he will take you on a journey with him.”

“Poetry and dance-stories with verve, sharpness, humour and warmth about people and for people.”


When speaking of griots in a modern context, it is popular to speak only of their history. To be fair, it is incredible to picture the care and effort that has gone into this transfer of music through many, many generations. For someone brought up in a world saturated with recorded and mass-manufactured music it is awe-inspiring to imagine how this low-tech, fragile, ancestral chain of artwork even survived. How many opportunities must each verse have had to be wiped out completely? Even in the modern world, with all the protection now offered by recorded media, there are those who have still sought to destroy these histories and practices forever. This shocking and sickening work is still occurring daily in Mali and other  parts of the Muslim world – and not only to music, but to other equally fragile, beautiful, precious and above all irreplaceable artefacts.

But on the flipside, this recent, rumbling conflict in Mali has spurred on the next generation to take on the griot attitude, traditions and responsibilities. In Mali, many musicians have used music to motivate, to educate and to reach deeply into the conciousness to paint a bigger picture – to revisit an inner, more balanced, sense of self and community. Luckily, as evidenced by the quotes above, it appears that the griot tradition is battling on in this way in many societies, including Britain.


Ali Farka Toure – Heygana


Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra – Toumani

This week’s Song of the Week celebrates something quite special. Toumani Diabaté has been a Song of the Week regular since it started almost a year ago, and its no surprise – he has to be the most influential Malian musician of his age, perhaps only second to Ali Farka Touré. Toumani’s father, Sidiki, was also a great kora musician – or griot – as was his father before him. In fact, Diabaté musical heritage goes back 700 years. Toumani represents the 71st generation.

700 years. Its an astonishing amount of time and the sense of responsibility and pride that must accompany such history has never let a listener of Toumani’s music down. He has such incredible talent and grace behind the kora (a 21 string harp/lute instrument) and is widely regarded as the best player of the instrument in the world. However, the ultimate responsibility in any hereditary system is continuing the line, producing an apprentice to keep building on the family legacy. Therefore it is incredibly exciting that later this month Toumani Diabaté will be performing on stage at the Barbican here in London with his son Sidiki Diabaté.  The 72nd generation of this ancient musical bloodline will return to the UK for a 2nd time starting with a concert in Brighton. The pair arrive in London on the 30th for a gig that is bound to inspire and astound.

As this short documentary video explains, in 1987 Toumani Diabaté peformed at the Royal Festival Hall in London with his father, Sikidi (Senior). It was their first performance together. 25 years later, in 2013, Toumani performed the same gesture to his son, Sikidi (Junior) and successfully introduced the next generation of this precious griot family onto the world.

This week’s song of the week is a live performance lead by Toumani Diabaté from Cambridge Folk Festival 2007. This shows Toumani in full-flare and a glimpse of the excellence that the duo, father and son, master and apprentice, will delight to UK with on their upcoming tour.

Toumani Diabaté Symmetric Orchestra – Toumani

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Nainy Diabaté – Farafina Mousso

This week’s track comes from a Malian griot so naturally is traditionally African in feel (click here for more information on griots). Nainy Diabaté is a Malian music legend with 11 albums out in the Malian market and a career history that includes performing with the renowned Mali Rail Band. She was one of the first Malian musicians to appear on Malian television and to break through into the European music scene with performances in France, Spain and Switzerland in the 1980s.

Though not brought up in a household of full-time musicians, her griot ancestry has prevailed with a helping hand from her mother’s interest in Mandingue music. Nainy started from a young age and claims to be mostly self-taught. Like many griots before her and in keeping with the important role music plays in Malian civil society her music has strong political and cultural themes including poverty and the problems facing women and children. In a recent interview Nainy also showed that she takes the leadership aspects of her griot status seriously by saying:

“Je remercie tous ceux qui m’aiment et qui me soutiennent. Je souhaite que le Mali sorte de cette impasse que nous vivons. Que tous les maliens se donnent la main pour reconstruire notre Maliba. Parce que, le Mali est un pays d’hospitalité, de dignité, de paix, de « sinankunya » et de solidarité. 

Que le bon Dieu par sa grâce, bénisse le Mali. Amina!”


“I thank all those who love me and support me. I hope that out of this impasse Mali we live. Malian all join hands to rebuild our Maliba. Because Mali is a country of hospitality, dignity, peace, “sinankunya” and solidarity. 

That God by his grace, bless Mali. Amina!” (Translated by Google Translate)



Nainy Diabate – Farafina Mousso