Jelis with ‘Ginas

Female Mande Musicians by Chloe Bolton, Olivia Parkes and Nicola Persky
Kandia Kouyate

Jelimusolu v.s. Jelikelu

Jeliya is the class-based art of oral history and praise singing comprised of instrument playing, speech, and singing. Jeliya is divided by gender; jelimusolu describes female jelis and jelikelu describes male jelis. The differences between jelimusolu and jelikelu have resulted in different specializations between the genders. For example, jelikelu more are more commonly speakers, while jelimusolu specialize and have excelled in singing. Female jelis play a more restricted number of instruments than male jelis. Female jelis play just one instrument, call either the “karinyan” or the “nege”. The karinyan does not have the same musical range as the male’s instrumental options, such as the kora or the balafon. It therefore generally serves as an accompaniment to singing, which has definitively emerged as the strongest skill of jelimusolu. In the last several decades, female jeli singers have risen to great prominence in Africa, especially Mali. Bouba Sacko has spoken of this as a “feminization” of the singing profession in jeliya, and indicated that radio may have played a significant role in the increasingly gendered preference for jelimusolu rather than jelikelu in singing. This preference for female jeli singers can be seen in the higher demand for them in one of Africa’s most important life ceremonies- marriage. It is now typical for a jelimusolu to sing at the wedding, and even on occasion to act as a sort of “master of ceremonies” (Charry 276), leading guests in song and dance.
Source: (Mande Music. Charry).

-submitted by Olivia Parkes

The Karinyan:

The karinyan, also known as a “nege” or “ne”, is the instrumental province of jelimusolu. The karinyan is basically a thin iron chime that is struck with a metal rod. It is a simple instrument, and for this reason it is often accorded less attention than the instruments that male jelis specialize in. However, the karinyan makes up an important part of the female jeli’s art. It substantiates and enhances jelimusolu singing, acting as a time keeping mechanism. However, its purpose transcends supporting the act of singing. When struck, the thin iron tube creates a high-pitched ring, and when its corrugated surface is scraped, the sound spectrum is filled out. It is crucial to recognize these simple musical accoutrements to the art of jelimusolu, because they root it in the historical preference for a full sound spectrum rather than clear tones that marks much of African music.

Source-Link to

-submitted by Olivia Parkes

Jelimusolu in Malian Ensembles:

Jelimusolu have been influenced by the Malian and Guinean orchestral traditions that developed with independence. With the development of national orchestral music, jelimusolu ensembles formed, in which female jelis were accompanied by instruments belonging to the orchestras rather than solely from traditional jeliya. These ensembles have included electric guitars and drum sets alongside traditional jeli instruments such as the kora and balafon, although the brass instruments present in the orchestras are generally omitted. Jelimusolu at the head of such ensembles have contributed immensely to the huge popularity and preeminence of female jeli singers. In these ensembles, it is the singer, a woman, who has the most important musical role. These ensembles, though they have expanded and modernized the province of jelimusolu, are still principally prevalent at ceremonies that have traditionally involved jeliya, such as birth and naming ceremonies.
Source: (Mande Music. Charry)

Fanta Damba: A jelimusolu who began her successful career by singing with the Ensemble Instrumental du Mali

discography, videos

Rokia Traore: One of the second generation of Malian stars

see her in action : youtube video

-submitted by Olivia Parkes

Ami Koita:

Ami Koita serves as a great illustration of one of the great Mailian jelimusolu singers that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. The huge rise in popularity and prevalence of such singers was tied to Malian independence and the concurrent development of national ensembles and orchestras. However, it is important to note that singers such as Ami Koita belong to a tradition that was active and integrated into African society long before Malian independence.
Source: (Mande Music. Charry).

This page provides information that connects Ami Koita’s modern success to the long tradition that she is a part of.

mp3s, videos, lyrics, reviews

-submitted by Olivia Parkes and Nicola Persky

Oumou Dioubate- Recent Trends in Jelimusolu:

The last century has seen an African interest in blending the modern and the traditional in music. Infusions of modernity in jelimusolu have generally meant a reinterpretation of the jeli’s social role. The last few decades have seen instances of jelis moving out of the constrained subject matter inherent in the patron-praiser relationship. Oumou Dioubate was one among several female jeli singers of the mid 1990s who branched out from the traditional subject matter of jelimousolu. Her lyrics move away from the jeliya tradition of praising patrons. The song lyrics reproduced below are from Lancey, a song that evinces both private concerns and public criticism. The strength of jelimousolu singing led to this kind of branching out, and was met with mixed reception in Africa. Concern from traditionalists was substantiated by the long history and specific social role of jelis. However, Oumou Dioubate gained commercial success and great musical respect.
Source/Lyrics: (Mande Music. Charry, 284)

More: biographical information, exploration of controversies surrounding her work, her impact on Jelimusolu.

-submitted by Olivia Parkes

Lancey Lyrics

Your friends talk about you behind your back
Saying you were throwing away your money
Giving it to a prostitute
Because I could not bear a child.

Some of your closest friends said
That you were throwing away your money
Giving it to a prostitute
Because I could not bear a child.

Even your neighbors said right in front of you
That you were throwing away your money
Giving it to a prostitute
Because I could not bear a child.

Allah (God) is lord of the whole universe
Who granted me a pregnancy with twins
They turned out to be boys
But Allah did not allow them to survive.

Master Allah, Allah is the ruler
Lord Allah, Allah is the ruler

My mothers, I was ashamed
Allah, I had lost hope
I was devastated
If only I could make a pact

I remained alone thinking
Allah, I was ashamed
I was devastated
If only I could make a pact

I made a pact with Allah.
Ahh, I made a pact with the great Allah.
If I can give birth to a child who lives to say
on that very day I will do the jassa dance for Allah.

Moribajassa, Allah merciful master of the universe.
Lancey called me Mommy.
Moribajassa, all of you answer me.
Lancey called me Mommy.

Women of the world help me with the jassa dance.
Everyone help me with the Moribajassa dance.
We made a pact with the great Allah.

My brothers and sisters, dance the Moribajassa.
I explained everything to the traditional healers,
They said that I should sacrifice a sheep.
To the women who have children,
May Allah grant them long lives.
And to the women who are childless,
May Allah grant children to you.
The meaning of marriage is in having children.

Asta Penda help me with the jassa dance
Everyone help me with the Moribajassa
Nyamakoron Saran
Help me bring up my child
People cannot more forward without good parents
Mahawa of Sididu help me, Allah
Everyone help me with the Moribajassa
Jassa, Moribajassa

N Nanama help me with the jassa dance
Sao help me with the jassa dance
Jefadima help me with the jassa dance
Everyone help me with the Moribajassa
Jassa, Moribajassa

Jekaba help me with the jassa dance
Sonosale help me with the jassa dance
Mama Kande help me, eh Allah
Everyone help me with the Moribajassa
Kabes Fanta help me, eh Allah
Everyone help me with the Moribajassa

~Oumou Dioubate , “Lancey”, 1994

Album Reviews and Song Clips for the Album Lancey

-submitted by Olivia Parkes

Web Accessability-Information on Jelimusolu:

Web information on Jelimusolu as a specific branch of Jeliya is currently rather limited. Information surrounding the historical development and current situation of Jelimusolu as a historical and social phenomenon is hard to come by. Rather, female jelis are generally prominent on the web on an individual basis, one closely tied to their commercial success. This commercial success is generally substantiated at least in part by the world music market. International recognition generally seems to play a large role in the amount of readily accessible information about individual female jelis.

-submitted by Olivia Parkes

Biography of select Jeli singers for four Malian Divas:

submitted by Nicola Persky

Check out these four Malian Divas’ World Network Sample (CD): Kandia Kouyaté, Mah Damba, Sali Sidibe, and Oumou Sangaré.

-Fanta Damba, born to a family of griot musicians in Mali in 1938, is one of the first female jeli’s (jalimuso) to have achieved international fame through radio and recordings. –Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali
Famous in Mali by the age of 16
Malian History in music and storytelling

Sali Sidibé
Sings wassalou music
Didadi rhythm
Contemporary issues in her lyrics (unlike malinke praise singers’ lyrics)
Sali began singing in the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali 80
Father opposed to her career as musician
1987 formed own ensemble
Her first cassette, Tounkan Magni, achieved international success

Kandia Kouyate

Mah Damba, neice of the famous Fanta Damba
Singer in Kassemady Diabate
Paris Mande Foli
Style: traditional malinke and bambara songs.
She is generally accompanied by a small group of traditional instruments, with her husband Mamaye Kouyaté on ngoni, Djeli Moussa Diawara on kora and Lansiné Kouyaté on bala.

“This CD begins with Kandia Kouyaté, who is recognized as one of the finest jeli mousslou of her generation and has toured the world and even performed on Broadway. Here she is accompanied on balafon by her uncle Bouraima Kouyaté, a long-time member of the Ensemble National du Mali. On one track they are joined on kora by Toumani Diabaté and Sidiki Diabaté (you heard correctly, Toumani Diabaté and his father Sidiki Diabaté) while the other two tracks Djeli Moussa Sissoko handles the kora duties. Kandia Kouyaté gives three powerful vocal performances. She excels at both long sustained notes as well as rapidly paced phases. While jeli singers rely on a series of clichés (it should be noted that even these clichés require considerable vocal skill), great singers, like Kandia Kouyaté have a remarkable ability to develop such clichés into novel phrases or sequences of phrases for soulful effect.”

Gender Issues
submitted by Chloe Bolton

The power of words in jelimusolu songs and the level of improvisation, which is much more important for vocalists than for instrumentalists, make the female jeli’s role very important. For more information on this read Mojca Piskor’s article “The Importance of Being a Jali Muso. Sometimes I Can SING About Things, I Could Never Openly SAY in Public” – When the Power of Social Criticism is in Women’s Voices.”

Although female jeli’s have a crucial role in Mande music as singers, women continuously struggle to achieve in the male dominated music scene. Women are limited to the role of singers and are not generally allowed to play the traditional Mande instruments, except the karinyan, and thus becoming a recognized female singer can be difficult and competitive.

Today some women are rebelling against these cultural traditions, however it is a struggle. In many instances women who have gone against the unwritten rules of gender roles in music have been subjected to harsh criticism, their instruments smashed by their family, and their husbands forbid them from playing music, thus forcing them to play in secret. Madina N’Diaye (pictured below), a blind female kora player explains

“Many griots are convinced that the kora should only be played by men. They say: Women should sing but should not play any instruments. There are even people who say that I have been punished with blindness because I followed my heart and started playing the kora.”

Even Kandia Kouyate, one of Mali’s most famous griot, whose voice is revered as a national treasure, struggled to become a musician. Despite being born into a griot family, her parents did not want her to pursue music and often beat her for her relentless aspiration.

In spite of this difficulty women have been very important in communicating social issues in their music, especially concerning women’s equality, gender roles, excision, family matters, etc.

Kandia Kouyate explains, “There are things that we, the griots and only us, can say. For example, if there is something between you and your family, and that all of your family is afraid to say to you, I am free to tell you. I am not afraid to. I am a griot. I must not have fear. A true griot must never have fear, even if you’ve done something you must not to. I come to you and I say it clearly, in a song, or I call you to the side and say it. I say that the family has something to tell you but they are afraid to. “Why do you make your family afraid that way?” Or I come to you, and I begin to sing you. I sing you. I sing you. And the moment that you are really deep into the music, I tell you all the things that the family thinks of you. That is permitted among us, the griots. We must do that. When there is something that is not going right in the country–this is what I say to political men today–I say that I, Kandia, was not made for you. I must never lie. I will never say something I must not say, or I must say something I cannot say, I don’t go near that person…But if you say the truth, they might be angry, but at least they will know that you don’t lie. That’s why, among us, there are many types of griots. There are ngaras, and there are simple singers. I am not in that club. I am a ngara. A ngara must not lie. A ngara must always tell the truth to the noble. When I am your griot, everything you do that is not good, I will tell you. And if you don’t want to listen to me, I will leave you. I will not follow someone who is not honest.

A ngara must not have fear. A ngara must not lie. A ngara must not be a person of bad character. She must scrutinize everything she says. She must be loyal. That is a ngara. Even among the nobles, there are ngara, loyal ones who do not lie. There are ngara, but this word ngara must not be applied to a noble, because when you say ngara, you are saying that person is very, very strong, too strong.

Talking about one of her songs in which she discusses the problem of excision
I had a lot of problems because of this song. I myself am a victim of this practice, and it’s a problem–how can I say this?–it’s a problem of customs in Mali. We were born with this. So if we want to struggle against that, it becomes a problem. I had lots of problems. I had lots of people who called me and said, “Kandia, with all the respect that the great personages, the religious leaders have for you, how could you meddle in this problem?”

I said, “No, you must understand me. I am a singer. I too am a victim. I was circumcised. But everything has its time.” We don’t know why we are circumcised. Because this has been erased from our head. The day you are born, you are circumcised. The next day. I don’t know what it would be like not to be circumcised. Really, I don’t know.”

Here is the entire interview

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