IN THE continent of Africa there are over 700 different languages representing distinct peoples and cultural groups. One cultural figure that is, however, common across West Africa is the griot for he carries the cultural knowledge and identity of each people. The griot legacy stretches back for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years.
The griot is a chronicler of history – keeping track of the history and developments of his people over time. The griot is also guardian of the knowledge of his people’s ancestry, or genealogy. This history may never be written down so the griot is crucial to keeping the records of the past.
Griots are also orators, lyricists and musicians and they train to excel in all three art forms.
But the griot is also a councellor – giving advice and spiritual guidance to his people. You can get an impression of this from the lyrics of Kasse Mady Diabate, himself a griot from Mali, in the song Moving Away:
"People listen to me, black people, white people, Africans, Europeans, children and adults, listen to what I am saying!
"What I’m saying is for the young people to hear us, to know that the Kings and Emperors who passed away before us did well.
"They were just human beings, but they worked hard and did well so we should be doing the same.
"Let's be proud of ourselves, get to know yourself and you will get to know someone else.
"Oh world, all the world, Africans and Europeans, let's be together.
"This is the best thing that could happen. Let's help each other, this is the only way we can succeed."
Kasse Mady’s lyrics rally people together, to persuade them to live harmoniously with each other.