The Language of African Music: Mandekan

The Language of African Music: Mandekan

The Mandekan language is spoken in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Mali

Mandekan – Jula

A To Ala Ma

A To Ala Ma

  • Ethnic Group: Jula
  • Language (dialect): Jula
  • Country: Burkina Faso
  • Recording date: August 20, 2014
  • Recording location:
    Bobo Dioulaso, Burkina Faso
  • Total Recording time: 14:33
  • Technician: Brian Nowak

Group members:
  • Fousseini Traoure – Balafon, ngoni
  • Salia Sanou – Djembe, vocals
  • Issouf Sanou – Doundoun, vocals
  • Abdoulaye Dembele – Djembe, guitar
  • Arouna Zapre – Marakasse (metal scraper)
  • Alidou Sanou – Djembe, guitar
  • Barakissa Berth – dance, vocals
Track names -- duration
  1. Saabu – 7:46
  2. Kele – 4:25
  3. Salia Sanou Interview – 2:22

Individual Tracks, Transcriptions, and Translations:

See all the videos and text at once or click below to see individual tracks with text.

Group introduction:

Representing the many clusters of young men that form music groups in neighborhoods throughout Bobo-Dioullaso, A To Ala Ma are friends that live in a spacious compound together. As the group’s size and ambition grows, the changing members now compose, perform, and offer drum and balaphone lessons to mostly European tourists. Several members also make and rehabilitate drums.

These two examples show stylistic differences in music typical to this generation of young men’s ensembles. The djembe group calls-out group members’ names and rotates solos to allow for individual appreciation and expression, both important values for this tight-knit group. Then, hanging out in a bedroom, the group performs a song reflecting the youths’ desires for peace after a violent conflict in neighboring Mali.

Recording context:

The large outdoor compound encompasses many rooms with enough space for large trees and quiet areas despite the number of people living there. The young men of A To Ala Ma rent several of these rooms and occupy an obvious area under a large mango tree next to a couple of the rooms they rent, where they performed the first song outside.

This is a place for hanging out, rehearsal, tourists, resting around the house, shade, parties, drum classes, laundry, and more. So pulling up the more than available chairs for a quick song would be along the lines of a familiar welcome routine for any visitor that may come to hang out, drink tea (the entire group does not drink alcohol) or take drum or dance classes.

The second song captures a more casual and insider-like feel; all friends and visitors gone, so just hanging out, or, perhaps sheltering from the rain. These are the moments when songs or other creative moments occur, like the creation of this new song inspired by stories from a war in neighboring Mali.

Being close, concentrated, with casual or creative discussion, music serves to solidify bonds and shared moments, earn some money, and in many ways occupies a large amount of time for otherwise unemployed young men.

Notes on Language Use:

The simplistic lyrics of calling names one by one, are ideal for a beginner learner, and appropriate, considering the group’s experience with lessons for visitors or foreigners working in the city.

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Farafina

Farafina

  • Ethnic Group: Jula
  • Language (dialect): Jula
  • Country: Burkina Faso
  • Recording date: August 20, 2014
  • Recording location:
    Bobo Dioulaso, Burkina Faso
  • Total Recording time: 10:20
  • Technician: Brian Nowak

Group members:
  • Seidou Denbele- lead balaphone
Track names -- duration
  1. A Ni Ce Waralu – 3:46
  2. Seidou Denbele interview – 6:34

Individual Tracks, Transcriptions, and Translations:

See all the videos and text at once or click below to see individual tracks with text.

Group introduction:

The third generation of this popular balaphone orchestra continues to bring the idea started by the group’s founders into the international arena. Farafina can best be translated as Sub-Saharan Africa, and this adaptation of a traditional Jula balaphone ensemble uses more balaphone players to create layers of percussive tones. The group’s lyrics often rejoice in everyday activities and values important to the lives of rural Burkinabe.

The group also sends a message to the youth to be proud of the traditions and cultures of their country as they adapt to the modern world. Lead balaphone soloist Seidou Denbele is an expert in the diverse balaphone traditions of Western Burkina Faso and is also one of the most respected balaphone makers in Bobo Dioulaso. This song was recorded during a regular rehearsal session in Bobo Dioullaso.

Recording context:

In a courtyard, just off a paved road, they squeeze the balaphones as close as necessary to feel them and practice at stage-performance quality. The entire surrounding area is relaxed with one or two standing around staring, a few small kids, and others grabbing chairs. They go from one song to another. The eight-person percussion ensemble is tight and prefers to face each other while rehearsing. They lined up for this recording near the end of a two-hour practice.

Notes on Language Use:

The use of a lion to represent farmers links the savage wild forests and its animals with the king of the land by another association: agriculture. The images, contexts, interpretations, and status of farmers is changing as different socio-economic classes in a changing Burkina Faso find new lifestyles and urbanize. “A Ni Ce Waralu” (meaning “Thank to you lions”) allows the title of farmer to be interpreted as kingly and proud, reaffirming an agricultural identity in a changing society with new challenges and values.

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Ladji’s Bar

Ladji's Bar

  • Ethnic Group: Jula
  • Language (dialect): Jula
  • Country: Burkina Faso
  • Recording date: August 20, 2014
  • Recording location:
    Bobo Dioulaso, Burkina Faso
  • Total Recording time:
  • Technician: Brian Nowak

Track names -- duration
  1. Baara – 4:59
  2. Minyanba – 5:06
  3. Jarabi – 6:41

Individual Tracks, Transcriptions, and Translations:

See all the videos and text at once or click below to see individual tracks with text.

Group introduction:

Guitarist Ladji, who is a Malinke from Guinea, owns a bar and plays lead guitar with a fluid group of musicians in Bobo Dioulaso. This ensemble features two griottes – a woman griot – performing two popular songs and the famous Jeli (griot) ballad “Miniyanba.” The women had just come from singing at a wedding all day and a kid replaced a drummer who did not show that night. This recording allows a glimpse into the bar band scene, filmed at Ladji’s casual neighborhood bar. Ladji is Malinke but the singers sing in Jula, the main Mandekan variety of Bobo-Dioulaso.

Recording context:

Ever since guitars entered the Mande repertoire, musicians from all corners of this linguistic empire incorporated griot traditions while creating new popular genres of modern expression. In larger towns and cities, bar bands often play weekly, sometimes more often, in venues defined more by the music than the drinks.

An often super-relaxed crowd listens attentively. Individuals may sporadically get up to dance, give money to musicians or dancers, and those in the audience who can sing may even join the band for a song.

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Mandekan – Malinke

Mamou Kamissogo

Mamou Kamissogo

  • Ethnic Group: Malinke
  • Language (dialect): Malinke
  • Country: Guinea
  • Recording date: August 18, 2014
  • Recording location:
    Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
  • Total Recording time: 19:38
  • Technician: Brian Nowak

Group members:
  • Mamou Kamissogo – Vocals
  • Tougoumagni Diabate – Balafon
  • Moustapha Sissoko – Djeli ngoni
  • Idrissa Coulibali – Djembe
  • Niajequessin Ouattara – Flute
Track names -- duration
  1. Ala Taanu – 7:25
  2. Yereko – 7:42
  3. Mamou Kamissogo Interview – 4:31

Individual Tracks, Transcriptions, and Translations:

See all the videos and text at once or click below to see individual tracks with text.

Group introduction:

From the Mande Jeli (griot) tradition, Mamou inherited ancient songs from her grandmother and other relatives from the Malinke traditions of Guinea, where she was raised. Now residing in Bobo-Dioulaso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso, she performs inherited songs and also modern compositions.

She straddles the span of a modern griot performing at weddings and also recording modern music videos. When asked to share some of the “old songs,” she was happy to share deeply traditional songs since modern music is becoming more popular in the musically rich city of Bobo-Dioulaso.

Recording context:

Along the wall of her living room, Mamou performed two songs from the rich Jeli tradition of Guinea with a group of expert musicians. With open double doors, a tapestry, and Mecca, the command of musicians outplays the casual, at-home arrangement.

The Mande flute bounces along the bottom and sings out to pierce at times, complementing a great balaphone, lute and flute section with large, thoughtful djembe. The lute wanted a big amp sound for his additional-string glissandos, forcing Mamou to keep up with the band’s volume. She astounds even without a microphone.

Notes on Language Use:

Malinke (Guinean variety of Mandekan) and Dioula (the main Mandekan variety spoken in Bobo-Dioulasso), are mutually intelligible dialects of the same language. This allows Mamou to perform freely within the realm of the Mande homelands, regardless of political borders. Given today’s national borders, Mamou’s speech literally transects the Mande language area from Guinea, through, Mali, and then Burkina Faso, not approaching Ivory Coast, where Dioula is also spoken in the North.

Interestingly, due to a lack of Mande griottes in Niamey, Niger, ethnic Mandekan diaspora families (Dioula, Bambara, Malinke) residing in Niamey contract her to make the seventeen-hour bus ride to perform for a day at a wedding as Niamey, and Niger, are not part of the Mande homeland. This arrangement demonstrates the importance of this casted social class’s role in Mande society’s diaspora in West Africa.

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