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Mande popular music and cultural policies in West Africa: Griots and government policy since independence

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Abstract

During the independence era in West Africa (1958-1984) many nations embarked on ambitious programs aimed at rejuvenating their traditional arts. These programs were realised through new cultural policies such as authenticité, with music being a prime focus. In the 1960s West African governments created dozens of orchestras throughout the region. They paid the musicians a salary, bought them musical instruments, and instructed them to "look at the past" for inspiration. Herein lies the foundation for such famous orchestras as Bembeya Jazz and the Super Rail Band, groups who were at the centre of a cultural renaissance which inspired the whole continent. This book examines the major orchestras and musicians of the independence era, and explains the role of the government and griots in the creation of the new musical styles. The text is supported through biographies of musicians, descriptions of traditional musical instruments, and extensive discographies of African recordings.
... has not considered the role of Makeba's position in Guinea in depth (Charry 2000;Counsel 2009;Dave 2014). In contrast to the existing scholarship, I will focus on Makeba's role as a conduit of African-American musical influences that exemplifies the complex patterns of stereophonic flows between Africa and America -flows that are "audibly entangled" with national policies, 1 cold war politics and Pan-African orientations, as well as popular musical tastes. ...
... Under the leadership of Ahmed Seḱou Toure, the newly independent Guinean state invested considerable effort in developing a modern national culture through a doctrine known as authenticité. Cultural interventions on the part of the state included the formation of artistic troupes, whose members were civil servants, which performed at regional and national level and the organisation of cultural competitions and annual national festival that exhibited selected groups (Counsel 2009). The vast involvement of the Guinean state in cultural life intensified following a Socialist Cultural Revolution that was officially initiated by Touré in August 1968. ...
... Researchers on Guinean culture have tended to stress the limited freedom of expression and strict censorship imposed by the Guinean government on cultural creation (Kaba 1976;Camara 2005;Counsel 2009). Accounting for these circumstances, Nomi Dave (2014) has coined the term "politics of silence" to describe Guinean musicians' silence on local political issues. ...
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The search for the African roots of the blues has long been a subject of fascination to writers, scholars and musicians, with Mali taking an increasingly central role in the popular imagination as the missing link in the blues’ DNA. Many Malian artists have found their music being labelled by journalists and record companies with such tags as ‘Mali Blues’, ‘Desert Blues’ and ‘Bambara Blues’, in recognition of the strong stylistic similarities with the Delta Blues in particular. But which way around did the influences travel? A crucial piece to the puzzle is a Bamana jeli (griot) song called ‘Poyi’, which, according to oral tradition, may have been the last tune that war captives of the empire of Segu (1712–1861) heard, before being taken into slavery. This article explores the complex trajectory of the trans-Atlantic conversations between the blues and Mali, by focusing on one musical tradition that has so far been ignored in scholarly studies of both blues and Mande music – that of the Bamana (‘Bambara’) griots from Segu in the middle Niger valley, with their trademark lute, the ngóniba. Drawing both on extensive academic research carried out on Mande music, and on long practical experience of working as music producer of Mande artists, it argues that Bamana music could well be a strong contender for the ‘roots of the blues’.
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