Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations

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Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations is a unique project that celebrates two great musical cultures and their deep historical and cultural connections through the musicianship of young children. It follows on from a three-year, film-based research project –Growing Into Music– funded by the UK Arts & Humanities’ Research Council.

Between 2009 and 2012 our team documented, through film, the ways in which musical knowledge and skills are passed on within specialist musical families in both Mali and Cuba. In each country, we worked with families who are considered custodians of great musical traditions: the virtuoso drumming and singing of rumba in Cuba, and the extraordinary centuries-old music of hereditary “griots” in Mali. The children of these families are the protagonists of our films, as we follow their musical growth over time. We also consider how oral traditions in both countries interact with more formal schooling, the media, and other aspects of modern society.

The musical traditions of Mali and Cuba have strong stylistic links. These links were first established during the slave trade, as many slaves from West Africa were taken to the Caribbean. Then much later during the 20th century, Afro-Cuban music “returned” to Mali through commercial recordings and the radio, making a huge impact on the development of popular music in West Africa in general. As a consequence, many of even the most traditional musicians in Mali are familiar with Cuban music. In Cuba, on the other hand, there is little awareness of the sophisticated contemporary styles from Mali that are currently making waves in the world music market.

Mali-Cuba: music across generations set out to explore the connections between children in these two great cultures, and to share the exciting results of our investigation both with the families involved and the general public.

The first destination of our project was Bamako, Mali’s capital city. There, in January 2012, we organized a series of screenings of our documentary films –the first of which for an all-children audience– and a public music performance at the National Museum of Mali, which saw most of the protagonists of our Mali documentary films perform on the same stage.

Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations then travelled to Cuba in March 2012, when we brought four Malian children to Havana and Matanzas to meet and work with their Cuban peers. The children participated together in a series of music workshops that culminated in joint performances during an all-day Mali-Cuba festival at the beautiful and newly refurbished Miramar Theatre in Havana.

A film documenting the events in Cuba is available to watch on this website.

Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations has found an ideal business partner in World Circuit Records, the multi-award winning independent UK label (Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate) that in 2012 had recently released the album Afrocubism, a collaboration between some of Cuba’s and Mali’s best musicians. World Circuit’s main role was to publicise our project and its outputs among international world music audiences.