Supernatural Power of the Female Griot: History, Lore and Topical Messages. (Music)

By Williams, Stephen | African Business, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Supernatural Power of the Female Griot: History, Lore and Topical Messages. (Music)


Williams, Stephen, African Business


KANDIA KOUYATE

Biriko

Sterns StCD1095

Why should it be that Mali has produced so many great female vocalists? Some believe the reason is that in Manding traditional culture, with its epicentre in Mali, there was always a special place for jalimosou, or female griots. Griots would become attached to particular families who would often be very generous patrons, so keeping an ancient tradition alive.

Others believe that it was because, following Mali's independence in 1960, cultural groups were sponsored and encouraged by the State. Perhaps the most important of these were the National Radio Orchestra, and the National Ballet Company. Both served to keep traditional music a living and valued cultural tool, although Western instruments such as the guitar and saxophone were increasingly integrated in the troupe performances.

A PERSON OF EXEMPLARY CHARACTER

At the same time, a trickle of influences, everything from Cuban rumba to R&B from the USA, were permeating the sound of contemporary Malian music, just as they were in all of West Africa. Kandia Kouyate's music is no exception, although she has tended to be more restrained in the adoption of Western instrumentation and styles.

Indeed, she has a well deserved reputation for following traditional values which has earned her the title of ngara, a person of near supernatural power, unstoppable bravery and honesty, and exemplary character.

This, in an age when the role of the griot is coming under increasing criticism and pressure because some have abandoned their heritage in the pursuit of financial reward, makes her contribution to Mali's great oral traditions truly important.

But griots are not simply entertainers, at least in the Western sense of the word. Rather, they are a complex mix of oral historians, praise singers and musicians, born into a family caste and trained in their craft from a very early age.

This tradition still exists today, although it is rare to find griots tied solely, as of old, to the noble patronage of a single family. Instead, they have tended to extend their repertoire and begun composing songs that gives more scope to contemporary concerns.

Kandia's lyrics offer a masterful blend of history, lore, and topical messages. …

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Supernatural Power of the Female Griot: History, Lore and Topical Messages. (Music)
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