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The Griot Baba Sissoko


The Griot Baba Sissoko

Before my birth, my maternal grandfather asked my parents to give his name to their baby; they asked him the reason and he answered that the he himself will educate the child because he would be special.

According to the Mali tradition, one week after the baby’s birth, a white ram is sacrificed to wish all the best to the newcomer, and 50 Kg of cola nut and dates are offered to all the participants in the ceremony, while the Immahm reads verses from the Koran and utters the baby’s name. 

When I was baptised, they did not sacrifice a white ram; in fact my grandfather Djeli Baba Sissoko gave my parents a white ox to be sacrificed. Moreover all the guests received a triple quantity of cola nut and dates.

When my name was announced (i.e. my granfather’s name, Baba Sissoko), all the griots and griottes sang for me and the celebration went on for the whole night. Everybody brought a gift, as a symbol of respect for my parents. But my grandfather’s present was the greatest and the most important one. He gave to my parents a piece of fabric called Kasà and asked them to make a BouBou out of it when I would be seven years old; this special BouBou would protect me from anything and anyone. My father gave me a Tama and a  Ngoni while my mother gave me a Tamani.

Therefore my father and my grandfather have chosen me to continue the griot tradition, although I was the second son of the family. My elder brother has never played an instrument, but he is an artist because he can paint and is very good at it….. everybody has his own talent! 

My father (Mamadou Sissoko),  my mother’s father (Baba Sissoko) and my uncle (Mama Sissoko) educated me as a griot. They taught me how to play the tamani and the Ngoni, to talk like a griot and the traditions and history of my country. Then I taught these things to my younger brothers and I am very proud of it. 

After completing my apprenticeship in Bamako, I went to Djumara, a village near Nioro of Sahel, at my granfather’s brother’s. In fact Djeli Makan Sissoko was the leader of the griots in that region and he would complete my education. Bamako was not sufficient to make me understand and learn all the country and family traditions; I had to go back to the origins ….. to the village.  Djeli Makan played the Ngoni and explained history and traditions. Everybody called him "the king of the word"; I was always with him and we rode two horses to go to the nearby villages. He taught me the Peuls,  Soninkè, Bamabra  and Mandingo history and traditions. His village was located in the middle of Kargolo territories, which were inhabited by the  Peuls, Bambara and Mandingos.

Djeli Makan played some Bamabara rythms with his Ngoni, like the Korosekorò (today I can say that the Blues origins from Korosekorò),  Yuriyare , Toh Joh and Damozo; some  peuhl rhythms like  N’diaro and Toungherè; some mandingo rhythms like Diaoura, Dahnsa and Sabò  and the Bambara-Mandingo rhythm called Badjuru.

Today I can play all these rhythms, which I learned from him in Djumara. 

Later I went back to Bamako and told my parents what Djeli Makan had taught me. They understood my level of knowledge and completed my education. 

My uncle, Mama Sissoko, started to take me to my granfather’s brother Basumanà Sissoko’s concerts; he was a virtuoso of the Ngoni and taught me how to play the national anthem of the  Republic of Mali with his Ngoni, nicknamed  "the Lion". During the concerts, at the climax of his performance, he could leave the instrument, which continued to play, and just sing.  He also took me to the griottes’ concerts, especially those of my aunt Fanta Damba, who was the best griotte in Bamako at the time. My uncle was a "modern" musician and also took me to concerts of contemporary music. Thanks to him I came to know the Bifè de la gare in Bamako; it was the most fashionable place at the time where Salif Keità, Mori Kante, Kante Mafla, members of the Ray Ban band performed.  He also took me to his concerts, when he played with his band Arai Marabias, which then became Bademà National.

My mother too contributed to my musical education. She was very proud of me and used to take me with her when she accompanied the brides to their husbands in the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Gabon, etc.

At the time, men moved to those countries and when they achieved a good social status, they sent money to their families so that they could find a bride for them. The griots were in charge of this activity. 

My father often performed this activity; …. The groom’s family asked him to find a girl who would marry their son. When he found a girl coming from a respectable family, he started to observe her behaviour and morals. When he was certain of the girl’s education, he asked the groom’s family to bring cola, an ox, some salt and sugar for the engagement. Then he organised the wedding. He used to be a good master of ceremonies; then he sent the bride (together with my mother) to meet the groom.

During one of the trips with my mother, I bought a gift for my father’s father who lived with us; he trusted me because I was always with him and ready to help him, because he was very old. Almost every afternoon I accompanied him during his walk in the area. His name was Djatourou Sissoko. His favourite instrument was the Tamani, he had three Tamas: a large one, a medium one and a small one; he was very good at playing his instrument and was considered the "king of tamani" from Nioro in Sahel to Djumara, to Bulonkono and to  Kolokan. I learned the history of this instrument from him.