I have been rummaging through my archives again and dug up some cassettes by Malian female singers. Singers who are perhaps relatively unknown in the western world. And there is a good reason for this, as Kandia Kouyaté (see earlier post, post and post) once explained to me.
One reason is that the music of these singers is uniquely directed at the local market. They sing at ceremonies like weddings and baptisms, at soirées (or 'sumu') and such. The scale of these events is usually such that most participants or persons attending are known to the singer, or people assisting the singer.
And that brings me to another, no - to the number one reason. This is, of course, an economic one. By praising, or at least singing about, respected, respectable and/or self-respecting members of the community the singer can make a good living. And in some cases even an excellent living. Anything from money, handbags, jewelry, items of clothing (pagnes but also silk, embroidered dresses etcetera) to cars and villas can be bestowed on a talented artist. The extent of gratitude on the part of the receiver of the praise is largely dependent of his or her social prestige, or at least the perceived social prestige.
And that is a key ingredient of Malian society: prestige. I have been to events where Malians friends did not dare show up, as they were - rightly - afraid that they would be the subject of griot flattery. As they were (temporarily) financially incapable to live up to their social status, they preferred to stay away. On the other hand I have seen poor Malians give away their family fortune when they fell into the hands of a griot who managed to hit the right button....
So that is why for most female griots there is no reason to gather fame abroad. Ironically the location of this talk with Kandia Kouyaté was Amsterdam......
But that is the subject of a future post.
This post is about one of the more succesful griots: Naini Diabaté. When I first travelled through Mali in the 1980s, there were plenty of stories going around about this singer, who was born in Bamako in 1963. One of the more spectacular ones was that Naini, being blind in one eye, during a heated performance had miscalculated the extent of the stage and had fallen into the crowd. Others claim that she was the first female griot to perform on Malian television in 1983, at the newly constructed (and Libyan funded) broadcasting centre of the R.T.M.. I have my doubts about this claim, but it is reasonably certain that Naini Diabaté rose to fame as a result of her television performances.
Seeing this video from a performance in (probably) 1988 will give you an idea why.
Naini in turn repaid the R.T.M. by singing its praise. And, if you ask me, this praise is well deserved. For the Radiodiffusion Télévision du Mali, which was renamed "Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision du Mali (ORTM)" in 1992, has served Mali - and in particular Malian culture - well. Not just by the many televised performances by Malian artists, but also by the wide range of audio recordings made at their studios. Many of which - by the way - were subsequently released on record or cassette outside Mali.
This is not the case with the cassette Naini recorded for Beny Mariko's label in 1988. I really like this cassette. And not just for the memories which it evokes for me. Not just in the title song "R.T.M." (yes again), but particularly in songs like "An Sako Be Ke", with its variety in amplitude, and the deeply soulful "Sory", the overwhelming "Diamou Niagale" and the skillful "Diagneko" Naini Diabaté demonstrates her maturity and tremendous power as a singer.
You can find more great videos by Naini Diabaté on Ngoniba's great Youtube channel.
Beny Mariko BM-018, 1988 [new link June 3, 2014]