The third edition of Bradt’s Mali has been thoroughly updated, and includes new sections on Mali’s festivals, music and musicians.
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There are three traditional instruments in Mande music in Mali. The kora, a cross between a harp and a lute, is arguably the most recognisable, with its 21 strings (in Senegal and the Gambia there can be up to 25) and large gourd or calabash resonator. Although many of the greatest kora players are Gambian or Senegalese in origin, Mali boasts some of its finest exponents in Sidiki Diabaté, his son, Toumani Diabaté, and Batourou Sékou Kouyaté. The ngoni is a cross between a guitar and a lute and a forerunner to the banjo. It has three to five strings and, despite being a notoriously difficult instrument to master, is extremely popular in Mali. Tidiane Koné, founder of the Rail Band (see page 27), is one of the country’s finest ngoni players. The balafon is an 18–21-key xylophone with a gourd resonator and is often played by two people – one performing the basic tune while the other improvises. Keletigui Diabaté is arguably Mali’s seminal balafon player. There are three traditional Mande drums: the tama (popular in Senegal and Gambia), the doundoun (a large, double-headed drum played with a stick) and the djembe (single-headed, goblet-shaped, high-pitched and played with the hands). If you understand French, the website www.djembe.com will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the djembe and its greatest exponents. Non-traditional instruments such as the saxophone, trombone and horn have also been introduced, and the electric guitar has become the instrument par excellence of modern Mande music. Mali’s great guitarists include the late Bassoumana Cissoko, Zani Diabaté, Baboucar Traoré and Ali Farka Touré (see Ali Farka Touré: the African Bluesman on page 22).
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