Searching for Music Across Mali

What happens when a musician and teacher from the U.S. decides to travel all over the West African nation of Mali and dig into the musical tradition of the...
Photo Credit: T160K

What happens when a musician and teacher from the U.S. decides to travel all over the West African nation of Mali and dig into the musical tradition of the region? The answer is the project Instruments4Africa: a series of documentaries with the purpose of spreading and preserving musical traditions of this African country, which have been endangered for decades due to the modernization and globalization of African culture.

The Mandinka warrior's harp, the Bolon was traditionally played by the West African griots to sing men into battle. Today, this is the only man in Mali who still plays this instrument. (Photo credit: t160k)

The Mandinka warrior’s harp, the Bolon was traditionally played by the West African griots to sing men into battle. Today, this is the only man in Mali who still plays this instrument. (Photo credit: t160k)

Paul Chandler and his team have been working to make sure these traditions will be handed down from one generation to another by documenting events and performances of traditional artists and letting them tell their stories with their own words. “Culture is disappearing like wildlife: masks, music, instruments.” Chandler says, explaining why he decided to create the campaign Instruments4Africa in the first place. It’s not only about the documentaries, it’s about building stronger communities, because when people share traditions as core values, when they keep their culture alive as an enrichment, the result is an empowerment of their societies.

Paul Chandler Filming in Mali (Photo credit:  T160K)

Paul Chandler Filming in Mali (Photo credit: T160K)

The videos represent great works of interest also because when the crew arrives in a village, it awakens the interest of the young generation of the community, which is encouraged to get involved in the traditional performances and musical practices, something that otherwise would not happen, with the risk that these cultural techniques will be lost in next decades, if not passed on. Therefore the cultural value of this campaign increases even more, because it’s not only used to make the rest of the world know about Mali’s village traditions, but also to guarantee Mali’s awareness of its cultural heritage.

The uniqueness of these videos relies on the words, looks and performances of the artists interviewed, who all have one thing in common: passion for what they do and for their beloved instruments, often passed on by their ancestors. Inna Baba Coulibaly, singer and musician from the area of Nara near the commune of Dilly, has been featured in the first video produced by Chandler and his team, along with her musical partners Sekénai Doukara and Djeliba Bah, and the amazing thing about the documentary is that one can enter their world by listening to their stories: “Music is my passion, it is my destiny” says Coulibaly “Young musicians must respect our music and not destroy our traditions.”

The story told by balafon player Madou Koné, from San, and his two sons Kalifa and Basidi, points out the extraordinary power of this traditional instrument, which is not only part of this legacy and essential to their livelihood, but also gives peace and wisdom to anyone who is listening.  It brings people together, even from distant villages, and it’s sound represent a blessing for both the player and the audience.

Photo Credit: T160K

Photo Credit: T160K

The last video produced by Instruments4Africa is about Malian Takamba Group Super Onze, whose instruments were destroyed by extremists in 2012.  Here again, the most important element is the musical tradition and the musicians’ commitment toward it.

The footage for the next documentaries already exists, but funding is needed to continue this campaign, that is why T160k, a Social Purpose Corporation, formed to promote the sustainable development of cultural heritage for the greater benefit of the global community, decided to support Instruments 4 Africa by launching a crowd funding campaign. T160k was born in 2012, in the wake of the effort made by a team of archivists, courriers and librarians to safeguard an irreplaceable trove of ancient manuscripts from Timbuktu, protecting them from fundamentalist rebels. Now T160k founders are expanding the effort to artistic and cultural projects throughout Africa and have 5 of them already active.

To find out more about T160k projects and how to contribute please visit www.t160k.org

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Development
Francesca Aloisio

Francesca is both an International Relations graduate and a dancer living in Rome. She is particularly interested in international issues, intercultural learning and culture sharing, as well as music and arts. She is currently a consultant for the UN agency IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the communication division.
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