30 December 2009

West African Bardic Tradition

In most West African nations, there exists an incredible tradition of oral historians. These bards are known in various languages as jelis, griots, djeli, jali, guevel, gawlo, and igiiw. They are historians, entertainers, advisors to nobility, genealogists, praise singers, messengers, and the keepers of cultural traditions. They keep their people's history alive by passing it through the generations in the form of music, dance, and recitations.

The craft is Jaliyaa, and jeli must have the abilities to perform every traditional song, some of which are more than 1,000 years old. Jeli must know details about local history, recite long stories, and be able to extemporize on current events. It is said that a library burns down with the passing of a jeli. These storytellers are the archivists of their people's traditions. Each jeli is the culmination of their lineage as the job is passed from parent to child, adding new works with each generation.

The Free Music Archive is host to a release of an international group featuring two young men born into the jeli caste, Jalikebba and Haruna of the Toubabs. The group Jalikebba Kuyateh and the Toubabs has released the self-titled album Jalikebba and the Toubabs which is now available for download at the Free Music Archive, a wonderful project from WFMU, the world's greatest radio station.

License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License


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