Stars and Songbirds of Africa: Mande Music in Contemporary Mali (Hardback) book cover

Stars and Songbirds of Africa: Mande Music in Contemporary Mali

By Lucy Durán

© 2018 – Routledge

236 pages

Purchasing Options:$ = USD
Hardback: 9780754657965
pub: 2018-04-28
Available for pre-order

FREE Standard Shipping!


Mali has provided many of Africa's best known and most celebrated artists, several of whom have won Grammy awards and other accolades from the international music industry. Malian music attracts audiences from around the world, is widely recorded, and features prominently in most discussions of 'world music' or culture in West Africa. Among Mali's diverse traditions, it is the music of the Mande jeliw (occupational hereditary musicians) that has dominated professional music-making from pre-colonial times to the present day. The Mande are a widespread group of peoples speaking a number of related languages and the jeliw are central to the sense of common history and identity of all Mande peoples. Though the jeliw are found in many West African countries, and have different regional styles and repertoires, their musical traditions are most vibrant in Mali, which is considered the homeland of the Mande. Academic writings on music have focused on the traditional performing arts of the Maninka and Mandinka jeliw of western Mali, Guinea, Senegal and Gambia but so far less reported are the musical traditions of the Bamana who have had a significant input into contemporary urban jeliya (the art of the jeli) in Mali. Lucy Durán explores three main developments in Mande music in Mali since the 1980s: firstly the rise of the female jeli (jelimuso) as 'star' performer and musical innovator, working within the ritual context of life cycle celebrations (sumu); secondly the emergence of wassoulou music as a new Mande tradition with ancient roots, performed mainly in the concert hall and on recordings, by non-hereditary musicians calling themselves 'songbirds', and thirdly 'art-jeliya' (virtuoso jeli music arranged for the 'cultural spaces' of Bamako) performed by semi-acoustic groups using traditional instruments. One of the key issues discussed here is the status of hereditary (jeli) versus non-hereditary ('songbird') musicians, challenging or reinforcing the social hierarchies of traditional Mande society. Durán explores how song has always been genderized as female in Mande culture (as in many other West African cultures) and so women have been the designated singers, while men play instruments and recite through the spoken word. The role of women as bearers of the tradition and as innovators of popular culture is made clear.

Table of Contents


About the Series

SOAS Musicology Series

SOAS Musicology Series is today one of the world’s leading series in the discipline of ethnomusicology. Our core mission is to produce high-quality, ethnographically rich studies of music-making in the world’s diverse musical cultures. We publish monographs and edited volumes that explore musical repertories and performance practice, critical issues in ethnomusicology, sound studies, historical and analytical approaches to music across the globe. We recognize the value of applied, interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and our authors draw on current approaches in musicology and anthropology, psychology, media and gender studies. We welcome monographs that investigate global contemporary, classical and popular musics, the effects of digital mediation and transnational flows.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General