Growing Into Music: Mali – Two films

Da Kali – The Pledge to the Art of the Griot

Dò Farala A Kan – Something Has Been Added

The two films on the music education of Mali’s young jelis, realised as part of our main project Growing Into Music, are now both online. In the two films, we follow several children from established griot families in urban and rural Mali as they start to learn and practice the ancient art of Jeliya (the art of the jeli).

In the first film, Da Kali – The Pledge to the Art of the Griot, we meet several children and their families, as well as visit schools, wedding parties and other learning environments, to understand how the commitment to this art is passed down the generations.

The second film, Dò Farala A Kan – Something Has Been Added, follows the children of two prestigious jeli families over a three year period to document musical progress among Mali’s hereditary musicians, with a special focus on the differences between city and countryside.

For more information, and for more films on India, Cuba, Venezuela, and Azerbaijan, visit:


Today at 17.00, the joint launch of the Growing into Music and Mali-Cuba websites!
At SOAS, University of London, near Russel Square.


Workshop #1

After a short silence, here we are with another Mali-Cuba clip.
During their stay in Havana the four Malian children Rokia, , Salif, and Daniel met regularly with the Cubans Kevin, Lester and Josué for a series of music workshops at the Residencia Estudiantíl of the National School of Arts. During these encounters, facilitated by Lassana, Lucy and others, the children taught each other songs from their respective repertoires, shared instruments, and showed each other playing techniques and other “tricks”. Below is a short video taken during the first of these workshops. Hope you enjoy it!

Dance for the Orishas

Los Criollitos de Los Sitios is a youth ensemble based at the Casa de Cultura (House of Culture) of the central Havana neighbourhood of Los Sitios. Here you can see them perform a series of dances for the Orishas, the deities of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria.

Mali-Cuba jam at the Casa de Africa in Havana

On the 23rd of March the project Mali-Cuba was presented at the Casa de Africa in Havana. There, after a short performance by the Malian children and Lassana Diabaté, the audience assisted to the first spontaneous Mali-Cuba jam session, when young Kevin Dedeu and the drummers and dancers of the youth music group Los Criollitos de Los Sitios joined in with the Malians.

The four Malian children

Before we upload more content on our trip to Cuba, here is a short introduction to the four Malian children who astonished Havana (and Matanzas!) with their music.

Mariam “Ne” Kouyate (born c. 1995)
Ne comes from an extended family of celebrated griots from Garana, a remote village of some 2000 inhabitants in the province of Segou, only accessible by a dirt road. This is an intensely musical family of singers and players of the ngoni, one of the oldest griot instruments of the region, dating back at least a millennium. The most famous member of the family is Ne’s uncle, the ngoni player and band leader Bassekou Kouyate, who was born and raised in Garana until the age of 20 when he moved to Bamako. The Kouyates of Garana are deeply committed to the griot tradition of Segou. Ne has that special, piercing voice of the Segou region, and is a brilliant dancer and performer of the tegere tulon, the clapping songs that village girls perform under the full moon.

Daniel Dambele (born c. 2003)
Daniel is the youngest of seven brothers. They are a family of Bobo hereditary musicians (called anu in Bobo). The Bobo are an ethnicity from south-east Mali and Burkina Faso who have settled in Segou; they have their own distinctive repertoire, although they are also conversant with Mande griot music. The Dambele brothers perform as a group at local festivals and at life-cycle events such as weddings and child-naming celebrations. They are all multi-instrumentalists, specializing in the Bobo balafon called chonzo, the bara (gourd drum), and the orozo (a 12-16 string calabash harp). Largely self-taught, Daniel showed exceptional talent from a very early age – musical instruments were his toys – and was composing his own music by the age of four.

Rokia Kouyate (born 1998)
Rokia is the granddaughter of Kasse Mady Diabate, one of Mali’s most treasured voices. Kasse Mady hails from a famous lineage of Diabates from Kela, a village 106 km west of Bamako, well known for its centuries-old oral epic traditions, and considered great authorities on Mande history. Rokia’s mother, Aoua Kasse Mady, is one of the finest young female singers of Mali, and Rokia’s father is Demba Kouyate, ngoni player and guitarist. The family lives in Bamako but maintains close connections with Kela.
Rokia learns from her mother, with whom she often performs at marriage ceremonies. In 2011 she was a finalist in the popular television programme Ministar, where children between the ages of 7 and 12 imitate a local star singer. She is appreciated for her assured performances, her ability to improvise, and her knowledge of a broad range of repertoires both new and old.

Salif Diabate (born 2000)
Salif Diabate comes from a family of world-famous kora players. His father is acclaimed virtuoso Mamadou “Madou Sidiki” Diabate, who has played with the likes of Damon Albarn and Amadou & Mariam; his uncle is multi-award winning kora player Toumani Diabate, and his grandfather, originally from Gambia, was Sidiki Diabate, who pioneered solo kora in the 1940s and 1950s. Because Madou Sidiki is often on tour, much of the teaching of Salif has been entrusted to Boubacar Cissoko, a relative from Senegal now living in Mali. He is appreciated for his soulful, melodic approach to the kora.

Update after Cuba

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A quick update after a long silence. We have been very busy with other aspects of our project and it is now time for some long-overdue news!

Our trip to Cuba was a success beyond expectation. Having never set foot outside their country before, the four Malian children proved to be brilliant travellers, and quickly adapted to life in Havana staying at the hall of residence for young ballet dancers. Under the watchful guidance of virtuoso balafon player Lassana Diabate, and performing on stage for only the second  time in their lives, they dazzled audiences with their musical skills and incredible professionalism. They were joined by many of the Cuban children who took part in our Growing into Music project, who also demonstrated astonishing musicality, especially given their very young age.

Malians and Cubans participated together in a series of music workshops, where they taught each other songs from their respective repertoires. Shy at first, by the end of the trip they all became great friends, overcoming language barriers and having loads of fun!

Mali-Cuba was presented in several venues in both Havana and Matanzas, and ended with a final showcase at the opening of the newly refurbished Miramar Theatre in front of an audience of several hundred children and their families. It was the culmination of ten days of exciting and unique exchange of musical experience and ideas between children of two continents, in which their musical growth was evident on a daily basis.

The four Malian children and Lassana Diabaté are now back in Mali, and of course we are all very worried about the current unstable situation in the country, following the military coup that happened only 12 hours after the children and Lassana had left Bamako. We are in touch with them and they are all well, with happy memories of their time in Cuba, but anxious about the unfolding events at home and their impact on the once vibrant music scene.

Watch this space, because starting from next week we will be regularly posting videos, pictures, and more stories from this truly unprecedented encounter.