Jaliya - the Art of the Jali





Jali Meseng Cissokho
Ziguinchor, Casamance, 2002

Besides the Balo (Balafon, xylophone) and the Kontingo (Ngoni, lute), the Kora is one of the most important Instruments of the Jali.


The Jali, pl. Jalolu, in French called Griot, is a member of the professional musicians caste of the Manding society, a large group of peoples in West Africa. Many Westafrican societies know this "singer" profession (Arabic: Qawwal, Wolof: Gewel, Fula: Gawlo, Moorish: Iggiw), that may be compared with the Troubadours in European middle age.

His profession has ever been a hereditary monopole of the great family clans Kouyate, Diabate (Jobateh), Konte (Kanute), Cissokho (Suso) and others. Since centuries they have been court musicians, advisors and diplomats in the service of wealthy personalities, political and religious leaders.

His art is the Jaliya ("what the Jali does") - instrumental as musician and vocal as praise singer, historian, genealoge, story teller, entertainer and more generally als carrier of the oral tradition. The men sing and play the instruments Kora, Balafon and Konting, the women are singers and play the Newo, a metal percussion instrument. Jaliya is a very complex connection of musical and verbal artforms, embedded in the social context of the Manding cultures.

At social (marriage, bapteme) and religious, also private occasions they are invited to praise the patrons with musical virtuosity and mastery of the words and to remind the glorious and heroic past of ther families. They should not be missing at any important event and they are also sought after as advisors and mediators.

The education of the musicians starts already at an age of 5 years, they are taught by father, uncle, elder brother or by another Jali family. When they are grown up they are mastering the instrumental techniques and the complicated repertoire of songs and instrumental accompaniments, praise names of all the family clans, historical facts, myths and proverbs of the Jaliya, much of that is improvised during the performance. The classical repertoire is very rich, some of the songs date back to the time of Soundiata, the great mythical king of the Mali empire in the 13th century.

Many Jalis are specializing in a certain style, as singers or instrumentalists. Traditionally the Jali clans marry only endogamously among each other, so the women (Jali Muso) commonly are the singers and the men (Jali Ke) play the accompaniment and instrumental soli. Often two or more Koras are playing together, also instrumental ensembles with Balo and Kontingo, even multi-cultural ensemles with instruments of other ethnic groups like Fula flutes and fiddles or percussions of the Diola are very popular.

In today's disintegration of the traditional structures the Jalis are hardly finding "patrons", who can pay for their living. Often they depend on public performances as musicians and entertainers, playing and singing at family and religious celebrations, in radio broadcasts and for tourists. Many wellknown Afro popstars like Mory Kante or Salif Keita are descendants of griot families but only few griots succeed in such a career. The classical Jaliya tradition is being displaced more and more by modern western music influences and Afro pop music with western instruments.

But fortunately, the musical development is booming - many multicultural experiments are undertaken by the young generation of Kora Fola (Kora players), finding their way into the international World Music scene and presenting proudly their art all over the world.



Tata Dindin doing one of his spectacular "Jimi Hendrix" Performances.

The project is intended to help make this distingished artform known better and to open up more possibilities for the Kora musicians to live from and to develop their traditional culture.


"Eh Jaliya, Allah le ka Jaliya da"

"Jaliya, it's God who created Jaliya "

This phrase in the Mandinka language is the refrain in the song Lambango which the Jalis are playing for themselves for their own pleasure.




Copyright 1997-2003 Harald Loquenz. All rights reserved

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