Why Mali’s Music Is Better Than You Thought
Binta Diakite finds it hard to introduce herself because she identifies herself with different ‘nominations.’ She’s an African girl (originally from Bamako, Mali), a Muslim, and part of the Sulani Nation which does not recognize a particular territory. Traveling is her great passion, and although she was born and raised in Mali, she took a long trip when she was 17 and visited 12 countries to study, learn more about new cultures and languages, meet new people, expand her horizons, and experiment with all the things she could think of (including becoming a well-recognized model in Argentina, as shown in her profile picture on the right).
She discovered that although she’s a traditional woman and deeply loves the culture of her country, she’s also a modern woman who studied hard in order to have a career for herself: she has a degree in International Relations from France, and a Master’s degree in International Politics from Argentina. She wants to have a family educated with the traditions of her birthplace, but at the same time, be open to the world. At 24, 7 years after she started that trip, she’s back in Bamako and working with the Ministry of International Relations. Her goal is to become a woman who has a voice for her country.
Binta’s passion for her culture extends to every aspect of it and here she shares some thoughts on Mali’s music and its important role in society.
What was it like growing up in Mali?
It was a wonderful. The Mali of 15 years ago was different. Everything was more quiet; all kids of the same age played together, kids grew together. The mothers of these kids educated all of them, so you felt protected by everyone. This sensation is great, but we grew up thinking that the center of society is the old people and that kids have no importance, so our confidence and entrepreneurial skills were diminished and we weren’t capable of taking the lead unless someone said so. I respect this culture very much, but I also want to show my future kids that they are capable of making decisions as well.
How is the music related with the culture?
Music is intrinsic to the culture and it’s one the greatest parts of our traditions. Mali is a country with an oral culture. Writing came with colonization by Arabs and Europeans, so music is very important in my country because it was the first way to transmit the messages and pass on the culture. The first role of music here is to transmit the story of the country. The stories of the past kings, for example: we know them because of music. Every family surname has a song; my last name has one that I know, that my grandparents knew and that my descendants should know, because that’s how we learn about ourselves.
Music for us is not only music, it’s about history, about beauty, about rich people, about the nobles; every song has a moment, has a story behind it, has a role in society. If you are caught doing something wrong, there’s a song that will talk about a similar situation that happened in the past and the lessons you should learn from it.
What’s the role of music and how is it composed?
We sing for every occasion: for baptisms, for funerals, for weddings, for circumcisions…for every traditional ceremony there’s a song. There’s an ethnic group called Griot, and their only role in society is to be the oral library of the country; they know every song of every episode in history and every surname.
Music has the role of teaching you something. When a Griot asks you for singing, you have to agree. It’s part of the game. The composition of the music can vary a lot. Before, it was only the voice of the Griot woman singing and the man playing an instrument (chord instruments that look like the violin and drums). Now it has changed a little bit and you can find more men singing as well, although not many women play instruments. The two most traditional instruments are the N’goni and the Kora.
Here are some of the Top 6 Malian songs of all time and some of Binta’s favorites:
Ali Farka Touré – Ketine
Bako Dagno – Alpha Yaya
Assemble Instrumental Du Mali – Laidu
Find more here:
Have you had the opportunity to listen to a live Malian performance before? If so, we’d love to hear about your experience!
Kora Instrument photo: Mark Roy.