Collections: Eric Charry - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Music of the Jalis (Griots) and Drum and Dance Events in Mali, Senegal, and the Gambia (1989-2003)

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Amadu Bansang Jobarteh playing the kora at his home in The Gambia, 1989. Image from video © Eric Charry.

The bulk of this collection centers on music of jalis (griots) and drum and dance events in Mali, Senegal, and The Gambia. It was primarily recorded on hi-fi stereo VHS tape between 1989 and 1992 while the researcher was doing PhD dissertation research. A smaller portion was recorded on stereo Hi8 tape during trips to Mali in 1997 and 2003.

The recordings include private solo performances (as part of lessons with teachers) on the kora, balafon, jembe, and dundun; live jali ensemble events (vocalist, kora, ngoni, guitar, percussion); Malian Maninka jembe dance drumming events; Gambian Mandinka 3-drum (kutiro/lenjengo) dance drumming events; balafon tuning; jembe and kutiro drum construction and drumhead application; Senegalese Wolof sabar drumming; Senegalese Balanta xylophone playing; Gambian Jola harp playing; and Malian Bamana pluriarc (ndang) playing.

This collection is significant in several ways. Several of the performers are widely respected as among the greatest musicians of their generation. The private performances are complete renditions of pieces (lasting up to 40 minutes). The public performances are raw uncut events from start to finish (up to 2 hours) capturing a variety of interactions among participants. And the performers gave full access to their repertory and their public performances. Highlights include the following:

  • Amadu Bansang Jobarteh (Gambian kora) playing "Alla L'a Ke" and narrating and singing a full version of the story (40 minutes). He was one of the most respected jalis in the region (uncle to Sidiki Diabate and grand uncle to Toumani Diabate), and is regarded as an authority on this piece, one of the most important in the repertory. A complete Mandinka transcription and English translation (5,000 words each) appear as subtitles.

  • Bala Dounbouya (Guinean balafon, recorded in Dakar) moved from Guinea (he grew up with New York jembe master Ladji Camara) to Mali to Senegal, where he taught balafon at the national conservatory of music and often appeared on national television.

  • Toumani Diabate (Malian kora), with two acoustic guitarists and two female jali singers playing for a baby naming celebration (about 2 hours). About 30 women were in attendance, and most of them became the object of the praise singing. Toumani is one of Africa's most renowned musicians, with many CDs and a recent Grammy award to his credit. The guitarists are nephews of the Malian Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. The researcher also video recorded Toumani's electric ensemble at a Bamako nightclub in 2003.

  • Drissa Kone (Malian jembe) playing at a Bamako wedding event (1 hour). Each dance rhythm (about 25 changes back and forth) is identified in the annotations.

  • Serang Kanoute (Malian dundun, jali bass drum) playing dundun duets with his son, going through main pieces in the repertory. Kanoute co-founded the national ballet of Mali and was the most respected dundun player of his time.

  • Several Gambian village Mandinka lenjengo drum and dance performances in traditional settings danced by young boys and girls.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © Wesleyan University

Eric Charry lived in four neighboring West African countries from August 1988 to July 1990 (Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, and Guinea) on an SSRC PhD dissertation fellowship studying music of Mande jalis and drumming. A large part of his studies there consisted of private lessons (kora, balafon, ngoni, guitar, jembe, dundun, tama), interviews, and attending a variety of events in which his teachers performed. A summer intensive Bamana language course before he went to Africa, along with language study in Africa, enabled him to work with his teachers intimately. They welcomed his curiosity and gave him open access to their work and lives. When he returned to the USA in 1990, he spent the next two years writing his dissertation, relying extensively on his recordings. After completing his dissertation in 1992, he began publishing a series of articles on his research culminating in his book, Mande Music, in 2000. Beginning in 1992, he taught for six years at UNC Greensboro and then moved to his present position as an associate professor of music at Wesleyan University. He uses his video recordings extensively in his teaching and guest lecturing at other schools and has found that students greatly appreciate the insight they give. In addition to teaching an African music history course, he also has a Mande Music ensemble in which he teaches several of the instruments captured in his videos. He is currently editing a book (with about a dozen authors) on recent developments in African music, especially among youth.

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