In West Africa, a griot is a praise singer or poet who possesses a repository of oral tradition passed down from generation to generation. They must know the traditional songs and must also be able to improvise songs about current events and chance incidents.

The West African griot is a troubadour, the counterpart of the medieval European minstrel. The griot knows everything that is going on. He is a living archive of the people’s traditions… The virtuoso talents of the griots command universal admiration.

BRIEF HISTORY

This virtuosity is the culmination of long years of study and hard work under the tuition of a teacher who is often a father or uncle. The profession is by no means a male prerogative. There are many women griots whose talents as singers and musicians are equally remarkable.” Bebey, Francis (1969, 1975). African Music, A People’s Art. Brooklyn: Lawrence Hill Books.

The Mali Empire (Malinke Empire), at its height in the middle of the 14th century, extended from central Africa (today’s Chad and Niger) to West Africa (today’s Mali and Senegal). The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita, whose exploits remain celebrated in Mali today. In the Epic of Sundiata, Naré Maghann Konaté offered his son Sundiata Keita a griot, Balla Fasséké, to advise him in his reign. Balla Fasséké is considered the founder of the Kouyaté line of griots that exists to this day.

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