Storytellers as Change Agents in West Africa?
In Bamako on Sunday, I got to a wedding event (they spread through the weekend) where the families gathered and griots sang their praises. Griot is sometimes translated as “storyteller,” and as a caste they have a fascinating and precarious place in Mali society and across West Africa: they traditionally depend on the patronage of wealthy families whose stories they sing at events, but they also sometimes speak truth to power.
In this photo the female griot at right sings praises to the accompaniment of the djembe drummers in the foreground.
Banning Eyre’s book, In Griot Time, is a fun way into his story of learning Malian guitar from griots.
In a growing global push against malaria, some health advocacy campaigns in Mali have enlisted griots. Recognizing how they have the ear of everyday people and thought leaders, the campaigns invite griots to integrate lyrics about how mosquito nets help protect children from getting malaria into their work. Some griots at the local-level have included that messaging at wedding gigs.