The Washington Post

Malian music: a rich history of joyful sound

Students in a drumming class led by Mamadou Kouyate at La Bouzou, in Segou. (David Taylor/DAVID TAYLOR)

But on the clay streets, and inside the bars in dirt courtyards and thatched porches, music fills the dusty air. David A. Taylor, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1980s in neighboring Mauritania, ventured to Mali recently to visit friends and found “a livelier cultural scene than you might expect for the capital of such a poor country.”

It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise for music lovers, though. The country has been producing Grammy-winning artists for some time and it has a rich tradition of orators, known as griots, that were poets, singers and musicans all in one.

When news was passed by word of mouth, the griots were the record keepers of sorts, Abdoulaye Diabate, one of Mali’s most popular griots, told Taylor. “The griot is the ear of the people and the ear of the king,” Diabate said.

In his Sunday travel piece on the music of Mali, Taylor set off to find out “how West African pop and the traditional griots, or storytellers, had fared in the pop era.”

Here is a view of the notable music makers in Mali:

Ali Farka Toure, a native of Mali and the traditional griot class of musicians, won a Grammy in 1995 a recording he partnered on with Ry Cooder, and another in 2005 for “In the Heart of the Moon.”

Toumani Diabate partnered with Tourne in the 2005 album, and another, titled “Ali and Toumani,” which won a grammy in 2011.

Diabate was born into a family of griots in Bamako. His father, Siki Diabate, was a notable kora player in West Africa.

Taylor recorded artist Madina N’Diaye, another popular artist in the Bakamo area, while she was playing a concert in a park during his stay. Listen to the audio below:

Cara Kelly manages the development of editorial tools and presentation for new products and user experiences. She previously worked in the Style section, following the completion of her MA in journalism at American University.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.