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Author: Mamadou Diawara
Title: Production and reproduction: the Mande oral popular culture revisited by the electronic media
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: Production and reproduction: the Mande oral popular culture revisited by the electronic media
Mamadou Diawara

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 8, pp. 13, 18, 21, 1994
Issue title: Institute for Advanced Study and Research in the African Humanities: Media, Popular Culture, and 'the Public' in Africa
Author Biography: Mamadou Diawara is Visiting Professor at the University of Bayreuth, Germany.

Production and Reproduction: The Mande Oral Popular Culture Revisited by the Electronic Media


The Mande Cultural Area is the zone of influence of the old empire of Mali (± 13th-15th century). It covers not only Mande-speaking countries but also those having a similar conception of power, of society. Thus, it includes the haalpulaar area, as well as numerous parts of the southern markets (Amselle 1990). The data analyzed in this paper has been collected chiefly in Mali. Known for its centuries-old history, the region is even more famous for its music, oral texts in song or recitations intended for the sovereign's court, its popular oral production, and the oral production of servile origin (Bazin 1979; Cissé et Kamissoko 1988, 1991; Diawara 1989, 1990; Farias 1989, 1992; Meillassoux 1967, 1986; Seydou 1972; Zobel 1993). This ancient music, pleasing to historians and anthropologists, is undergoing a complete transformation. An essential but hardly examined feature is the influence of electronic media: radio, tape-recording, and television. How are these media changing the actual social and musical outlook of the region? How do music professionals command these products of high-technology? To what extent can one speak of a process of globalization? To answer such questions of the present, one has to consider the past where the material examined originates.

Production and Reproduction

Regarding the traditionalists, Jean Bazin (1979:450) writes, "each author has to his disposition a treasure, a patrimony from which he selects elements with which he re-composes a product which is at least partially new." Bazin adequately defines the process of production and reproduction in which the verbal specialists of the Mande cultural area are engaged. The goal here is to study how reciters create, considering the new means at their disposal.

The Social Surfaces of Information

By "social surfaces" I mean the productive layers of distributed oral information, as well as the social categories to which this information is directed (Diawara 1990). In the Mande cultural area, every tradition originates in an identifiable social layer which directs it to another, easily accessible layer. A well-known case is that of the famous griots, the verbal artisans or wordsmiths. In the role of client (nyamaxala, nyamakala), they are required to compose and distribute their oral texts in honor of their patrons (tunkalenme/jaatigi in Soninke, jatigi in Bamana), who may belong to the warrior aristocracy or another category. These relations are hereditary. However, this order, evolving with local economic and political conditions, has been turned around by colonization: along with the shattering of social and political structures—caused by, e.g., the suppression of slavery and the brutal competition initiated by the colonizer over the control of persons—the economic power of former patrons collapsed.

After a long period of damage, the social fabric is being reconstituted. Through the passive or active complicity of the former rulers, the administration enlisted the former slaves in its service (by schooling and incorporation into the army). [1] Those who previously occupied the lower echelons take up new responsibilities under the attentive eye of the French and their representatives. The layer of official audiences for the chronicles of "les gens de la bouche" [the people of the mouth] or griots becomes fragmented. The verbal artists themselves look for new directions. A new human and urban environment results. New figures of authority occupy new cities, created or reinforced by their occupants. The newly promoted, who are in power, at the apex of their glory as guardians of the Circle, former combatants, or subaltern civil servants, have a direct share in the colonizer's power (Olivier de Sardan 1976:152). "Le pouvoir," says Jean Bazin (1979:458), "se prend," but in this region, "le pouvoir ne peut que se dire." Since "speaking of oneself lacks dignity," according to the etiquette of authority (idem, 455), the powerful are searching for new agents capable of proclaiming their power. So the griots flock to the towns, just as in the past they followed the warrior aristocracy to the battlefield. This movement is encouraged and amplified by the phenomenon of rural migration. It takes place in a continental region which served and still serves as a work force reserve for the colonial and postcolonial cities. Nakamura Yusuke (1988) describes the situation of griots in search of opportunities to exercise their changing role as follows: "... while their ancestors settled in the village because of the fama (the powerful), the griots no longer play the role of advisor, spokesperson, historian, storyteller, or private musician for their descendants, poorer than they." It is certain that griots intensely solicit new layers, especially the newly rich, but the author exaggerates when he talks of (griot) mendicancy. In power, this wealthy category—later called the bureaucratic or commercial elite—has its praises sung. The influence of colonial radio, though limited by weak transmitters and the rarity of transistor radios, was felt in the capital and its surroundings. The same applies for the phonograph at the end of the 1940s and 1950. National Distribution Radio of Mali, heir to colonial radio and transmitting from Bamako, later relays the new compositions which progressively spread across the country. In the meantime, transistor radios became popular, the grammophone appeared, and the tape recorder rapidly spread. This was never seen before!

Radio attracts and fascinates because everybody hears the actual voice of the person speaking or singing. It seduces because it publicly celebrates the relationship between the singer and the person being praised. To praise the current person in power and to be named, implicitly or explicitly, as his griot is considered correct. Being the griot implies being his counselor, his intermediary, as it was in the past between clients (naymaxala in Soninke, nyamakala in Bamana and Pulaar) and patrons (jaatigi/jatigi). When the strength of the person in power is thus confirmed across several territories thanks to sound waves, his "turiféraire" directly affirms his own allegiance to the dominant circle! Radio is the authority. The message carried by its waves is strong and true. This is doubly amplified because the broadcasts are sometimes introduced by persons who have gained the confidence of the audience. With the help of a few carefully chosen words, the presenter launches the new production, a spoken or sung piece of work. The piece is no longer valued for its content alone but also for the approval it receives from the man or woman on the radio, from the radio! The new medium is efficient because it carries its message beyond the targeted ears. It reaches friends as well as enemies, particularly the faadenw, or haababaano, the "children of the father," the worst potential enemies in the Mande cultural, known for polygamy (Bazin 1979, 1982; Bird et al. 1980; Cissé et Kamissoko 1988, 1991; Diawara Manthia 1992; Johnson 1986; McNaughton 1988) and their obvious adversity to all possible rivals.

The worry of traditionalists who testify before the africanists is interesting in the following respect: in the past, the chronicler simultaneously represents the school where he studied and his teacher (Diawara Mamadou 1990:83). He engages the prestige of his fellows. This is why the chronicler always stressed this classical element of the speech of the reciters: "Rendez-vous à Yerere pour tout gesere tenté de sous-estimer mon savoir. Rendez-vous à Yerere. ..." (idem 1990:82) as did Jara Silla, -gesere informant of Y.T. Cissé, G. Dieterlen, and J. Rouch. Informants were conscious of the vast area their testimony covered thanks to tape recording, but they made an even stronger point by stressing the indisputability of their knowledge. Wa Kamissoko (1988:41, 223, n. 203) provides several examples when he addresses his interlocutor:

[...] This is why I will narrate what I know of the history of Massalens [...] Yes, what I know of that history, I will tell you in a story which does not have lies, nor flattering words [...] Any conversation we have or any word coming from my own mouth, from Wa Kamissoko, can be spread across the four corners of the country. If there is anyone who thinks my telling is just lies, ask them and ask me, and sit us down in the same place so that we can debate. Yes, I am the great griot of Manden [....]

The will and the awareness of defiance are unmistakably there and are strengthened because a large crowd is listening. In the past, the challenge arose and was launched to the community to which the spoken or sung recital pertained. From the village out into the rest of the country, it was spread by intermediaries who travelled on foot or at best, on horseback. Now, the challenge, bordering on bravado, is launched into unexpected, infinite areas. Everything goes faster, farther, and in a more direct manner. Those who do not want to listen are condemned to forsake owning a radio and, definitely, listening to their neighbor's radio which is always blaring!

The effectiveness of this new instrument is its repetition, its durability, and its anonymity. Once the artist has given his performance, it is out of his care. If all goes well, it will be re-broadcast regularly if the public or the broadcaster likes it. If not, the reciter or the person being praised may bribe the technician or presenter, who will not hesitate to devote the proper time or even more! This practice was the norm at Radio Mali where traders, lacking prestige, would have their own hymn (recorded by their griot) repeated. Another classic method consists of requesting the broadcasting of the piece during "listeners' requests" programs. In this case, one is certain to hear it and to make it heard as frequently as one desires. Nowadays, with the growth of private radio-stations—about twenty have been created in Mali since the revolution of March 1991—the range becomes infinite.

The Models of Electronic Media

Colonial radio broadcasts exerted a determining influence on the public (as listener or as musician). This influence grew after independence. The new government advertised its nationalist and socialist vocation. Radio was the mouthpiece of a cultural policy aimed at the revaluation of national heritage, signalled when the name of the medieval empire was chosen for the new republic. At the same time, the forces struggling for social reform wanted to destroy the old inequalities. "Radio Diffusion Nationale" of Mali recorded the classics of the oral patrimony, e.g., Bazoumana Cissoko. National Youth Weeks and festive cultural and sports events were instituted and held annually at first, then every two years. Performances and the norms governing them were determined in advance. Each of the six administrative regions of Mali nervously prepared for the national meeting. Through these institutions, an impressive repertoire, originating in the countryside, was produced. Unknown artists were broadcast. Specific musical genres, e.g., musical solos by a female singer with an instrumentalist, were especially encouraged during the festivals. The authorities also created an "Ensemble Instrumental National" (EIN) [National Instrumental Orchestra] with salaried artists who produced and served as examples for regional ensembles composed of many instrumentalists and vocalists. New and unheard of mixtures resulted when instruments from across the country were combined. Some, like the flute, had in the past been reserved only for certain social layers or particular regions but were now promoted. The influence from the revolutionary republic of neighboring Guinée was important: men and women without distinction of class or social order performed together in public—in a country where this type of music proclamation was reserved for specialized social groups (Camara Sory 1986; Diawara Mamadou 1990; Traoré 1992). These grand biennial productions and those of the EIN shaped public taste with the help of radio.

Even after the fall of the socialist regime, which was at the source of these cultural festivals, the ensuing 23 years of military dictatorship (11/19/1968-3/26/1991) did not curb the artistic creativity of EIN and Youth Week. The name was changed to Artistic Biennial. But under the new political orientation, EIN started to lose its vigor. The best female singers, who before EIN performed privately with their musician-colleagues, became totally autonomous—a trend first seen the mid-1970s. With many years of experience, these singers formed orchestras and produced in private. A product of EIN, they composed in the new tradition, while simultaneously enriching it. Audience taste changes, adapts to, and simultaneously stimulates the new musical production, forming a new model of audience and musician. Radio continues to expand the influence of the famous female vocalists on numerous composers across the country, as well as the Mande area. Starting in the early 1970s, I had the opportunity in Bamako to witness one of the grand dames of Malian music (AK) being recorded by a neighbor (MMK). These recordings were already circulating back then in their neighborhood of Lafiabugu.

All this production comes from Bamako, the metropolis. Issued from a secular patrimony, it has the blessings of radio and administrative and political authorities. The inaugurators of the Youth Weeks, in search of the "New Man," thus found an original musical genre. A musical model emerged, became dominant, and gave rise to innumerable variants.

The Mediatic Revolution: New Clients (nyamaxala/nyamakala) and Their Patrons (jaatigi/jatigi) The Clients: Holders of the Message

The revival of the patrons was and continues to be accompanied by an upheaval among the reciters. It is not just the old griots who speak up. In the past, "les gens de la parole" were in the clientele of the powerful. Other clients specialized in other professions, such as blacksmithy and tannery. Les gens de la parole, according to hereditary roles, either sung, played a specific instrument, or did both. A slow and profound transformation of this category of people is underway.

Among men, e.g., in the Soninke society of Kingi, the Sodega used to engage exclusively with the word, but they now have started playing the lute. According to the most erudite current teachers, it appears that the word by itself is not of much interest to the majority of the public. Music has to support the recitation of the professional chronicler. Similarly, the Waalemaxannanko, or local drum-specialists, are converting to the lute. The lute is ideal for the salon or the courtyard of a wealthy listener. The Tagadinmanu, specialists of the "tambour d'aisselle"(talking drum) and of the word, are accompanied by the lute. Banzoumana Cissoko, a.k.a. Le Vieux Lion, was the most famous of Malian griots. By name, he belongs to the Bula clientage, a Mande people (Cissé et Kamissoko 1988, 1991; Conrad 1990, 1992; Farias 1989, 1992). A monument to oral tradition, he included in his repertoire such varied genres as chants of the Komo initiation society of the Bamana and marriage chants of the Soninko (sing. Soninke). Artists do not limit themselves anymore to their traditional domain. They enrich and surpass it without considering obligations of past traditions.

The Youth Week brought many young people, regardless of social allegiance, to artistic production. The entry of non-griots onto the stage, due in part to this phenomenon, is incresingly common for men, who are no longer content to sing in a choir. Surrounded by a modern orchestra, they take hold of the microphone for numerous reasons: the modern orchestra provides a way to express oneself as a young, modern city-dweller, to become famous, to have success, and to compare oneself with the great stars of the time, be they neighboring (Salif Keita) or more distant stars (Johnny Halliday, James Brown, the sacred monsters of the Aragon Orchestra, Bob Marley, or more recent stars like Michael Jackson). Also, the youth do not associate the electric guitar, a modern instrument, with the lute or the griot. Last but not least, one can become rich and influential. In the meantime, people who were not by origin griot took music studies. The music section of the National Arts Institute of Bamako, a public education institution, receives students from all social origins.

Salif Keita is the best example of a person contesting his social affiliation by choosing the music profession. This young man, coming from the birthplace of Mande history and born into an ex-princely family, went against his social peers in order to perform. Having become a worldwide star by refining the Mande repertoire, he owes much to the hunters, griots, as well as to the common people with whom he patiently studied. The example of Salif and others stimulated more and more urban youth to pursue music.

Among the women of the same period, the changes are just as clear and decisive. Those who in the past were authorized to sing are no longer alone. Popularity determines what is sung. Female Soninke griots interpret with success parts of the repertoire of the tanners, who, though they are among the best female singers in the country, are hardly heard. The perception of the artist as a griot accompanied by his wife persists, as noted by Nakamura Yusuke among the Marjakeli, "griots" of the Markajelan peoples of the San Circle in Mali (1988:341). The griot plays his instrument; his wife sings and occupies a secondary role. With the help of radio, women have gained some precedence over men in those orchestras slated for recording. The rising importance of female griot singers results in the group being named after the singer. One no longer speaks of the griot and his wife, but of the woman and her instrumentalist (who may be her husband or another person). For example, after the announcement of the names of a duo consisting of a man and a woman, few radio listeners remember the name of the man. Presenters often announce Fanta Danba, the vocalist, and Madi Tunkara, the lutist, but few people know the latter. Most often, one does not mention the name of accompanists, even when they are brilliant musicians. Just the name of the artist, like Ami Koïta, Taata Banbo, or Kanja Kuyate, suffices for the presentation while her accompanist—even when he is her husband, as with Banbo—is banished to anonymity. Bréhima Camara recounts the story of a local griot, in the neighborhood of Jikoroni Para (Bamako), who takes care of his children for months. [2] Meanwhile his wife, one of the women griots-entrepreneurs, leaves for Paris to perform. This is an extreme example of how women have taken control of the stage and the media—an act of retaliation especially for those women who went from an accompanying role to that of the star.

In the long term, one notices a clear feminization of the artist's profession among the griots. For the average radiolistener, it is the voice that counts. This is also noted by a professional from Goa, in Markajalan country, near San in Mali: "[...] what one loves about them (griots), is the voice and their ngoni, lute" (Yusuke 1988). Since the voices are usually female, women dominate. They create orchestras of two persons or more, and then invade recording studios and stages to perform. They charm both young and old listeners.

We are witnessing a slow but certain change in the professional identity of men and women. Likewise, we see women taking control of a domain which they used to share with their male colleagues. One is no longer griot; one is an artist. The French term, "artiste," dear to the musicians who use it even when they speak only their own language, brings an air of nobility to the profession.

The New Patrons, the Addressees of the Messages

After political independence, social references tended to evaporate. The new parvenus invented themselves or had their identity created. The old renowned families fought against forgetfulness by recalling their origins or by being praised. Radio thus became an opportunity "pour se dire ou pour se faire dire." To emphasize the legitimate, even natural authority of Modibo Keïta, the first president of Mali, they stressed his descendance from Sunjata (Bagayago 1987; Diawara Manthia 1992; Diawara Mamadou 1994; Cissé et al. 1991:98). The same thing was said of Moussa Traoré, the putchist of Sebetu, a village of freedom (i.e., of former slaves, freed from 1905 onwards). Traoré, a man who promoted himself to army general, arranged to be interviewed on television by a professional historian (IBK) from Paris. The historian recounted Traoré's personal version of the recent history of Mali. Assisted by interjections of griot chants and interviews, Traoré created (or believed he created) a new identity for himself. The broadcast was regularly re-transmitted. That is why Wa Kamissoko (1991:98) says: "[...] if one would discuss the real origin of families and many high-placed people who take themselves for what they are, one would then see that there is a great distance between the heights where they find themselves and the depths where their ancestors lived." Radio provokes slowly, but surely. It creates as much upheaval in the category of the addressees, the patrons, as it does among the holders of oral texts.

Formerly, the griot was bound by heredity to the family adopting him. He produced within a village framework in the heart of his country of origin, composing under the strict surveillance of his peers, teachers, and even his rivals or possible enemies. The production, directed to his patrons, took place under the cover of social sanction.

Today, the recitation is addressed to a person. This person certainly is called jaatigi/jatigi as in the past, but the person does not necessarily have the former historical relationship with the appointed artist. There are many researchers and traditionalist collaborators who criticize, even condem, this practice which has become more general (Cissé and Kamissoko 1988, 1991; Meillassoux 1986:170-171; Niane 1960). One can also hear in the village: "jeliya c[unknown]nna," "the profession of griot is spoiled. "[...] they are no longer loyal to their former jatigi [patrons]" (Yusuke 1988:343).

The new artist communicates with his listeners and his public by recordings or sound waves and still refers back to the audience and the show business environment. The audience praises, ignores, or blandly accepts the productions; show business reacts by agreeing to finance the next public performance, the next recording. The direct personal contact the artist formerly had with his peers and the accompanying responsibility and restraint have faded in favor of new relationships and responsibilities. New creations—called fasa, pasa, janmu whether one speaks Bamana, Markajalan, Soninke or Pulaar—are abundant. Soninko artists have moved to exiled homes, the houses of immigrant workers in France, the US, or elsewhere, and they have adopted a highly revealing French term, suweniiri (souvenir). These musicians followed their countrymen to work elsewhere, to play music for them, and dedicate particular songs, suweniiri, as souvenirs of their passage, to more fortunate hosts. In general, the songs are variations on famous and popular songs. This form of modern communication, which assures the patron of a recording and the artist of a gift, gives rise to important documentation. Video and audio cassettes are recorded by those interested, who then re-sell them on the Bamako markets and throughout the Mande cultural area.

The Media and Distributed (Oral) Texts

Since the great patron on which the griot family depended is becoming extinct, clients are searching for new patrons. When the relationship is destined to be ephemeral, as is the case here, numerous sources can be found (Knight 1984:64). Because of the quantity and diversity of patrons, the need for artists to create is pressing. They create "express texts" from famous melodies and simple texts to praise the success of a new patron, even though in general the originals refer to another era and another content. Because of their popularity, they have been elevated to the function of narrative traits, i.e., narrative elements that pre-eminently re-occur (Bazin 1979:451). They can then be re-used for all purposes (idem). Here's an example from FD, one of the most famous female griots of Mali: "Aye wooyo Baya la," "Celebrate Baya La!" As the title of this piece indicates, the artist praises Baya la, who is considered the best, the triumphant, the genius, etc. Baya La—a wealthy trader in Bamako—Jogorane, [3] not a griot— is praised using the sound of sandiya, a melodic theme normally reserved for griots. The old norm, now changed and adapted, has lost its importance. The ancestry is praised, but minimally; only direct ancestors are praised. How could he know his sponsor's forebears when his visit is just long enough to extract some money? So he plunges into the vulgata—common to all who descend from Sunjata or Tiramakan (13th century), from Di[unknown]a (the dawn of mythical time among the Soninke), or from another ancestor. One jumps through time without noticing it. [4] Very often, the griot continues with the call on the horsemen, soolu yo! In the past this was only reserved for uncontested braves. The piece, titled sandiya, is equally popular and used in the express compositions. Typically, it is devoted only to courageous griots, but today it is used to everyone's joy. In it the artist illustrates his definition of patron, jatigi. Here is one by Taata Banbo Kuyate, one of the great stars of modern Malian music:

"[...] I am addressing the jatigi
the jatigi who is not stingy
I am addressing the jatigi
the one who is certainly not ungrateful
I am addressing the jatigi
the one who is not a jatigi pastille valda [....]"

The valda tablet is a green-colored camphor lozenge for soothing coughs and sore throats. It is common in francophone West Africa and produced by the Valdafrique Company in Senegal. An inhabitant of the Sahel is exposed to the rigors of a dry "harmattan" (desert wind) and a relatively cold winter, where temperatures drop below 10° C. The lozenges offer some relief, but no cure. As soon as one finishes a lozenge, one forgets its taste and its benefits. A patron offering a temporary, instable dedication can be compared to this lozenge; he does not play his role like clock-work. In other circumstances, one would liken him to a weathervane. This crude parallel is telling, even if it does not appeal to those who adhere to the classic language of les gens de la parole. TB Kuyate, criticizing the ingratitude of her patrons, alludes to the so-called infidelity of modern-day griots, who constantly search for solvent sponsors among the new rich. By means of a verbal artifice, she takes a step in front of the patrons, and chooses the side of her own group.

Because of new arrangements and multiple variations on popular songs, the maecenas of the occasion are puzzled. Everybody, thanks to fortune and their current composer, appropriates the right to any fasa, the device in Bamana. Concerning ornaments and flattery which crowds even historical narratives, Wa Kamissoko says: "The matòkòmali kan, nominations, the fassa, panegyrics, and other balimali, praises, embellish the word, but they are not the 'true word' (kouma yèrè-yèrè). The latter is the privilege of nwâra who only tell it to experts, and not that of 'musician griots' (fòlikèla djéliw) and 'griots- or female griottes-singers' (dònkilidala djéliw) who are often incapable of explaining or even commenting on what they are playing or singing. Thus the main body of narratives that I [Wa Kamissoko] tell you [Youssouf T. Cissé], emanates from multiple veins which make up the 'word' of master Déréba-Kamissoko of Krina." The inhabitants of N'Goa go even further: "[...] they [the griots] neglect maana (history) and shout anything to flatter people hardly known to them" (Yusuke 1988:343). The consequences are the following: (1) music takes precedence over the historical text; (2) the beauty of the voice takes precedence over sociological content; and (3) flattery and banal conversation supercede chronicle.

Furthermore, the artist includes passages | are not authorized by the ancient canons. Contents switch from one historical register to another one; fragments which refer to medieval times are mixed with those of the 19th century, or vice-versa. Because everything is interchanged, a production loses its customary identity and begins to resemble a poorly performed musical variety show instead of well-documented chronicle, a genre elaborated by the reciters of the old school. However, I do not deny the fact that a historical text of another quality is produced, while simultaneously the one related to more distant times is transformed (Bazin 1979). Yet it is remarkable that the chronicle of the past becomes more and more vague.

Extremely prolific artists in this genre of production create songs as fast as they disappear. These productions are called sa[unknown]awili. What a far cry from the old texts! Radio broadcasts the new songs, while tape recorders record and repeat them. They are extinguished like a brushfire—but those who appreciated them can still retain them on tape before the end of ephemerides.

The speed at which they adapt to popular taste is more than ever the key. The influence of modern music and of EIN is great. What compositions lose in textual depth, they gain in "modernity." It does not matter what people think of it. The most famous artists are divided between two camps. One side, represented by Salif Keita, starts from the riches of the land and then creates. Though their production conceals this patrimony behind modern arrangements, the patrimony is easily retraceable. Such is the case for the majority of female griots, the most famous being, incontestably, Ami Köita. The other camp leaves even more room for the requirements of show business. Mory Kanté is typical of such artists. Once the electric instruments print their rhythm onto the text, the sound of the kora is barely perceptible. The average listener cannot identify with this music since a whole other character has been substituted for the Mande one. The new version, produced in Parisian studios, is very well received by western spectators, but less so by the local people.

In addition to this adaptation to the sounds and norms of show business and studios, the artists adapt their instruments to modern sonorization. They transform their instruments in order to make them more suitable for radio, television, and other media-recording. In the middle of the 1970s, a debate agitated the Direction of the Arts of Mali, the service in charge of cultural affairs. The debate was focused on whether one should fix a microphone on the kora, and consequently on other string instruments, or whether one should record them as they are (acoustically). Without waiting for the ensuing sterile discussions to conclude, the artists adapted their lutes and koras to the requirements of electronic media.

Jeli Baaba is a chronicler who knows how his art can accommodate the conditions of modern media. Still the most appreciated Malian griot, since the 1960s Baaba has animated an hour-long broadcast on Radio Mali every Thursday night. With the rise of Islam, religious broadcasts pushed him to Monday nights. His production of essentially historical recitations covers the repertoire of the Mande cultural area, of which he is the uncontested expert. Baaba recites while he accompanies himself on a lute with mesmerizing sonorities. The instrument with four strings, ngonin, is known throughout the region (Conrad 1990; Diawara Mamadou 1990; Seydou Christiane 1972). The texts are normally produced according to a canon requiring unity of space and time: the performer should recite the text and finish the same night. Bound by weekly radio programming, Baaba has become the greatest expert on the oral serial of the Mande cultural area. Every sequence begins with his usual dedication: "[...] I will tell you the rest of my recitation, and start from the point where I stopped last Monday [Thursday] [....]" Amused, his passionate listeners reply: "Aha ... the liar ..., we are sure he will not finish it [....]" It is this phrase that is declared by one of the children in Chieck Oumar Sissoko's film, Nyamanto, dedicated to children in the middle of the 1980s. At the end of his performance, the talented communicator always concludes: "[...] I am interrupting my recitation. Next Monday [Thursday], I will recount the sequel [....]" This idol of Malians takes advantage of his weekly performance to thank admirers who write him and offer small gifts. This lute and word virtuoso opens a musical parenthesis, salutes his patron with the sound of a song adapted to his patron and continues his recitation. One might object that he is content with generalities, like other artists who talk of persons they hardly know. Yet Jeli Baaba strives not to mix genres. To thank those who are called Traoré, he praises Tiramakan; when he addresses Kulibali, he praises Biton of Segu. He goes back to the most glorious origins, to the 13th and 18th centuries, thereby following the method analyzed earlier. The radio broadcast of Jeli Baaba is also shown on national television. The genius of oral communication is less convincing on the cathode tube, but his transformation of the oral recitation genre remains eloquent.

Electronic Media, the Production of National Identity, and The Fate of 'les gens de la parole'

Carrying the word far beyond the mouth of the authority who utters it is one of the classic roles of les gens de la parole in the societies of the Mande cultural area (Bird 1980; Camara Sory 1976; Camara Seydou 1986; Cissé and Kamissoko 1988, 1991; Diawara 1990; Dieterlen 1992; Johnson 1986; Meillassoux 1967, 1986; Monteil 1953, 1968; Pollet and Winter 1972; Zobel 1993; Traoré 1992). The emergence of an artificial medium that permits authorities to reach their subjects directly defies ancestral ways. The interference of radio, television, and tape recorder in the field of re-creation is another challenge. Entertaining the audience was and still is one of the essential domains of the professional reciters. The transmission of historical oral traditions is habitually reserved for those who preserve these genres. The official chroniques intended for the public dominate what is heard on radio, on tape, or seen on television. Their transmission is the object of an apprenticeship which is more or less systematic according to each case (Diawara Mamadou 1989, 1990; Camara Seydou 1986; Jansen forthcoming). With the emergence of tape-recording, people who want to learn no longer have to resort to the long process of dictatation by the experts. One records what one wishes to know, listens to it, and assimilates it. In August 1990, I witnessed this in a small village of the Mauritanian Sahel. Searching for oral servile traditions, I was surprised and happy to meet a fairly old man of servile origin, who was secretly listening to a tape. In the greatest secrecy, he offered to copy it. The first section concerned the repertoire of a female singer, reputed to be of servile origin. The second part featured the taped lessons she gave to one of her pupils. It is true that since at least the start of the 1970s, this region is the source of a significant portion of African immigrants to France. The tape recorder is not foreign anymore. How do local composers deal with the challenges brought by these new technologies?

Exploiting the production of national identity by the new States of the subregion, they stress their own distinctive features (Camara 1986; Zobel 1993). Politicians use and abuse this theme to give meaning to the new entities they direct. This content can only be given by the chroniclers, who profit from it and take control of the microphone. By praising medieval Mali, one provides meaning for its 1960 successor; by the same token, one praises Samori Touré in Guinée, the alleged ancestor of the defunct president Sékou Touré. In Senegal, Lat Dior Diop does not remain quiet. The goal is to produce an edifying oral history, not the written history which is stammering and contested. The reciters associate themselves with politicians in order to take hold of the media, which Sekou Touré once called the heavy artillery of the revolution (Diawara Manthia 1992; Diawara Mamadou 1994).

Mali Banzoumana Ba, the Great Banzoumana of Mali, or The Old Lion: these are a few names of the person who, for four decades, identified himself at the Radio and at grand national happenings: B. Sissoko—a learned man. The theme of Sunjata, which he performs excellently on his lute, is the jingle of the newscast of Radio Mali. Each exceptional national event, like the war against Burkina (1975, 1986), or the death of an important figure, was accompanied by his lute and raucous voice; the same was true on national holidays. One wonders what happens when the "Old Lion" roars. Yet, what he says and sings does not captivate all Malians. He recites the hymns of Sunjata, classics of the Mande repertoire and Bamana country. The few pieces not composed in Bamana come from the Soninke repertoire. Because radio gave him indicative status, his voice and instrument have become living symbols of Mali. Through the production of the national griot, Mali expresses itself in guarded terms. Radio has made Sissoko and his music (which originates only certain areas) into national music.

The communicators of bygone days jump on the high-technology bandwagon and use that technology, even outside those spaces reserved for politicians. Nowadays, Soninko artists record impressive quantities of tapes which they dedicate, by request, to emigrated compatriots. Sometimes, the chroniclers themselves take the initiative to record spoken or sung recitations and send them to their maecenas. The most fortunate among them mix with the entrepreneurs who go to Paris, Libreville, or Kinsasha. This is the case of Jeli Baaba in the mid 1980s. He travelled on his own to the houses of immigrant Malian workers and gave public performances that were recorded by the audience. This practice is current among the women, especially those who leave with their orchestra or those who acquire an orchestra in France. They do this within the framework of big concerts, as well as during ceremonies of name-giving, circumcision, marriage, or burial. The resulting work is captured on audio- and videotape. Going to France crowns an artist's career. Aspiring performers struggle to be recorded there or, at least, to have their recordings broadcast on Radio France International (RFI). RFI then transmits it to the world.


The colonial authorities undermined the power of the warrior aristocracy of the Mande area. With the emergence of colonial cities, a new kind of town-dweller alligned with the colonizers. After independence, new social groups search for an identity and attempt to proclaim, or have proclaimed by others, their new-found power. Les gens de la parole, ruined by the decline of their former maecenas, search for sponsors and place themselves in the service of the new rich. The latter provide them with the means to be heard. The ancestral function of les gens de la bouche causes them to worry about the modern media, and makes them take possession of the microphone, wherever it may come from, so that they can realize their ambition of restoring social function. The urban layer of jeli becomes active.

Electronic media are being used in various domains such as the production of information. Centuries-old instruments are transformed to suit the recording studios. The kora, lute, and flute nevertheless bear the stigma of a trail of wires to the amplifier. Urban lute players of the young generation who play their instrument in public without this gadget are rare. Texts reflect even more the pressure of electronic media. Simplification of the content, the speed of production, and the abandonment of the usual harmony confirm this state of affairs. After the passage of radio, many purists of classical music in the Mande cultural area note, with a certain disillusionment: "one no longer sings, one speaks...." The career of the ideal artist is only measured by the speed with which he passes from being recorded on a banal tape, then in radio studios, and finally on television. When the artist is interviewed during The Artist and His Music, a television program spotlighting the country's talent, the artist's career is confirmed.

Owing to new information technologies, music elicits a double explosion: griots abandon their traditional social context—now a carcass—determined by heredity. The category of patrons, exclusive addressees of the message and heirs to the famous songs, fragments in turn. The popularization of the art form is proceeding with rapid strides. Yet this process has its limits: not everyone who wants his praise gets it; nor does everyone who aspires to fame become a mediatized composer. The codes of chivalry and nobility have faded, but those of money and power endure. While clients actively look for new patrons, thus flouting the old norms, women attempt to capitalize on the upheaval by becoming entrepreneurs. In so doing, they pursue a local tradition, but they take it further and surpass the men, assuring themselves of an unlikely fortune. Yet female ambitions are still controlled by a few bigwigs—male, of course—who run the recording studios.

Since music assimilates foreign norms, e.g., from Zaire or the West, can one speak of a globalization? Yes, if only one does not forget that (1) this music and its producers keep their distance and (2) the music has incorporated the media and metamorphosed. The popular oral culture of the Mande continues to be expressed in an environment profoundly marked by ancestral traditions. Purists of oral art keep watch, but today's artists, once students of the former, produce and reproduce the inherited patrimony according to their temporal constraints. There is no cultural uniformity here—far from it. We are simply witnessing our societies digesting an imported shock; but the Mande cultural area is capable of and accustomed to absorbing shocks.

Bayreuth, April 1994

References Cited

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Bagayako, Shaka. 1987. L'Etat au Mali: représentation, autonomie, et mode de fonctionnement. Dans L'Etat contemporain en Afrique. Ed. Terray Emmanuel. Paris, pp. 91-122.

Bazin, Jean. 1979. La production d'un récit historique. Cahiers d'Etude Africaines 73-76, XIX-I-4:435-483.

—. 1982. Etat guerrier et guerres d'Etat. Dans Guerres de lignages et guerres d'Etats en Afrique, textes rassemblés et présentés par J. Bazin et E. Terray. Paris, pp. 319-374.

Bird, Charles S., and Kendall, Martha B. 1980. The Mande Hero. In Exploration in African Systems of Thought. Eds. Ivan Karp and Charles S. Bird. Bloomington, pp. 13-26.

Bouche, Denise. 1964. Les villages de liberté en Afrique noire française 1887-1910. Paris.

Camara, Seydou. 1986. Conservation et transmission des traditions orales au Manden: le centre de Kela et sa place dans la reconstruction de l'histoire ancienne des Mandenka. Mémoire de DEA, Centre d'Etudes Africaines. Paris.

Camara, Sory. 1976. Gens de la parole. Paris.

Cissé, Youssouf Tata and Kamissoko, Wa. 1988. La grande geste du Mali. Paris.

—. 1991. Soundjata, La gloire du Mali. La grande geste du Mali. Tome 2. Paris.

Conrad, David, C. 1990. A State of Intrigue. The Epic of Bamana Segu. According to Tayiru Banbera. Oxford.

—. 1992. Searching for History in the Sunjata Epic: The Case of Fakoli. History in Africa 19:147-200.

Diawara, Mamadou. 1989. Women, Servitude and History: The Oral Historical Traditions of Women of Servile Condition in the Kingdom of Jaara (Mali) from the fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. In Discourse and Its Disguises: The Interpretations of African Oral Texts. Eds. Karin Barber and Farias, Paolo Fernando de Moraes. Birmingham, pp. 109-137.

—. 1990. La graine de la parole. Stuttgart.

—. 1994. La quête de l'ancêtre historique: le paradigme de Sunjata dans les traditions orales du Sahel (XIIIe-XIXe siècle). Bayreuth African Studies Series (awaiting publication).

Diawara, Manthia. 1992. Canonizing Soundiata in Mande Literature: Toward a Sociology of Narrative Elements. Social Text, pp. 154-168.

Dieterlen, Germaine et Sylla, Diarra. 1992. L'empire de Ghana. Le Wagadu et les traditions du Yéréré. Paris.

Jansen, Jan. 1995. Ph. D. (forthcoming). University of Leiden, The Netherlands.

Johnson, John William. 1986. The Epic of Son-Jara. Bloomington.

Klein, Issac. 1979. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. New York.

Knight, Roderic. 1984. Music in Africa: The Manding Contexts. In Performance Practice: Ethnomusicological Perspectives. Ed. Gerard Béhague. London, pp. 53-90.

McNaughton, Patrick, R. 1988. The Mande Blacksmiths. Bloomington.

Meillassoux, Claude. 1986. Anthropologie de l'esclavage. Paris.

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Zobel, Clemens. 1993. Jeliya oder das Sprechen der Griots: Eine westafrikanische Tradition stellvertretender Kommunikation und ihre sozio-politische Bedeutung der Republik Mali. M.A. Thesis, University of Vienna.

Cassettes Cited

Kuuyate Taata Banbo, Tata Kouyaté Bembo, Syllart Production, SYL 8360.

Other cited artists were recorded on cassettes not bearing precise references, proving that amateurs distribute recorded documents without considering the regular norms of publication.

1. See the testimony presented by Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (1976:152, note 53). On the topic of former slaves, the informant states: "The captives have all been promoted. When there was forced labour, the captives were doing the supervising and beating. They were also the first to attend school."

2. Oral communication, Bayreuth, Spring 1994.

3. Endogamous group of the Pulaar, living in the Nioro regions of the Sahel, Diéma and Mopti in Mali. In the court of the kingdom of Jaara, they were the sovereign's debtors. Actually, they distinguish themselves by their commercial activities. Some of the country's biggest traders are Jogoraans, Jogoraamè, or Jaawando (plural Jaawaanbè), whether one speaks Soninke, Bamana or Pulaar.

4. This is reminiscent of an current practice in the hebrew religion. The new converts—whom I compare to patrons of circumstance—are baptised ben or bat avraham, preferably Avraham or Sarah ben Avraham. By this artifice, one avoids that in the long run, the neophyte can be qualified with the infamous epithet "new convert." For more details see Issac Klein 1979:445. In both cases, the obliteration of the recent history is compensated by a jump into the mythical period. I thank Ralph Austen for directing my attention to this analogy.

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