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American Folklife Center Collections: Mali

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting Malian expressive culture in Mali and the United States in the collections of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.


American Folklife Center collections documenting Malians represent the diversity of their expressive culture in Mali and in the United States. Among its unique collections are documentation of music recorded in Mali as well as performances at the Library of Congress by Malian Americans and citizens of Mali.

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Balla Kouyate is a griot and virtuoso player of the balaphon. Considered the predecessor of the xylophone and the first Mande instrument, the balafon is made up of wood slats of varying lengths. The slats are secured over two rows of calabash gourds, which serve as natural amplifiers. Each gourd is punctured with small holes over which Balla places thin plastic tape. The vibrating air rattles the plastic to create the desired sound. Were he back home in Mali, Balla would use spider webs (collected from kitchen walls) to cover the holes. The first known balafon dates back to the 13th century and remains under the guardianship of the Kouyate family. It is considered a UNESCO-protected Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Once a year it is brought out and played during a ceremony. In this concert Kouyate performs with singer Adjaratou "Tapani" Demba, Sekou "Pablo" Dembele, Makane Kouyate, Idrissa Kone, Daniel Day, and Raja Kassis. (Event date: April 28, 2010)

Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

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Cheick Hamala Diabate is a West African historian in the griot tradition, a sought after performer, lecturer, storyteller and choreographer. Diabate was born into a griot family in Kita, Mali. In West African tradition, the griot is a male troubadour-historian whose hereditary role is to preserve and share the history, genealogy and oral traditions of his people, as well as providing advice and practicing diplomacy. (Event date: March 23, 2016)