Mali is an incredibly diverse country. There are many, many ethnic groups here, and they all have made their own contributions to the whole of what is Malian music. Of course, some of these groups have had larger influences on music here. Among the most traditional music customs, djalis go back centuries. And yes, although they are known for being historians and being able to recite long historical passages, they are also known for being praise singers. Most of these praises are geared toward kings and national heroes, but some of these songs also include more poetic works like proverbs.
|Man playing the kora.|
Many instruments utilized in their traditional music (and even in a lot of popular music as well) are similar to other areas of Western and Northern Africa. If you listen to Malian music, you’re likely to hear the kora (21-24 string lute harp), n’goni (a 4-7 string lute), or the bala (a type of xylophone with calabash resonators). Percussion is also an important part of many African music traditions, including in Mali. Some popular types of drums include tabale (a tall conga-like drum played with flexible sticks), dunumba (a large drum that hangs from the shoulder and played with a mallet while the other hand plays a bell), or the n’taman (a talking drum shaped like an hourglass). After WWII, the guitar started making its way into African music, and it was incorporated into a lot of their music. Jazz and Latin music (especially Cuban music) also gained popularity in Mali.
Of all of the traditional styles of music, no matter what the tribe, they all include music to dance to. With percussion at its roots, their music was often used in dancing for ceremonies and other festivities. Most dances are performed wearing traditional clothing and are often seen as a form of expression. For Malians, drumming and dancing go hand in hand, and it’s often spiritual for the performers.
One of the biggest names in Malian music is Salif Keita. Not only is he an established musician, but he’s also a huge advocate for promoting and supporting local music. As a singer, he uses music as a means of expression outside of the traditional djeli role, and he’s been credited for bringing the Afro-pop movement to the global forefront. His work has influenced countless other musicians as well. I really like his music; it has elements of jazz and Latin styles mixed with some traditional styles and instruments. It has a very chill effect. I feel like I should be drinking a beer sitting outside on the patio after dark. I can see why he was popular.
I listened to many other artists who had similar styles to his, relying heavily on the kora, which I love. It almost has a dulcimer sound to it. Some artists are more instrumental, some of the instruments used may vary, and some have vocals, but each share a similar musical style. There are several artists who have become fairly popular that I would recommend listening to: Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté, Ali Farka Touré, Afel Bocoum, Vieux Farka Touré, Mory Kanté, Les Ambassadeurs, Bassekou Kouyate, and Fanta Damba.
There is also a Tuareg band called Tinariwen that put Tuareg music on the map. To me, they took elements of jazz and blues and mixed it with traditional Tuareg musical styles. It’s pretty catchy -- I like it a lot.
I found a couple of other bands/groups that fell into the rock or pop category. They’re not quite definite categories, but they do have qualities that lead them to sound a bit more Western. A few I found include Amadou & Mariam, Rokia Traoré, and Tamikrest. There’s even a hip-hop group of sorts I ran across who call themselves SMOD. I like what I heard from them.
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