Daybo

After years in the Sahel, I am, although neither griot nor poet, one of West Africa's greatest praise-singers.

The Mandé Ritual Clown

Photography of the chief korèduga of Mimana in Mali by Jethro Massey. The clown or buffoon is wearing strips of torn cloth and a colorful monkey mask.

“To understand comedy is to understand humanity, for the comic sense is central to what it means to be human”. ― Conrad Hyers, The Spirituality of Comedy, Comic Heroism in a Tragic World Predestined to Provoke Comedians, contrarians, jokesters and tricksters have made their appearance in all human societies, from the more or less secular, bell-capped …

The Zaouli Mask Dance of the Ivory Coast

Photography of a Zaouli mask and dancer.

A homage to feminine beauty, this traditional West African performance art is protected by UNESCO’s Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, 2017 Each Guro village in the Ivory Coast has its prized Zaouli dancer. Although always incarnated by a man, the mask itself represents the beautiful daughter of Zaouli ― …

The Blacksmith

Black and white photograph of a blacksmith axe laying on the ground with cowrie shells as an offering in Sierra Leone.

“When iron is heated in a charcoal fire to white-hot temperatures, skilled African blacksmiths move the metal like clay. Using hammers as an extension of their hands, they can model any shape they desire upon their anvils. With astonishing technical prowess these artists have, for over 2,500 years, created the essential and the conceptual, the …

The Talking Drum

Photograph of a West African talking drum, in the shape of an hourglass with tension strings surrounding its sides and a scarf tied loosely around the top. On top of the drumhead lies the curved percussion stick used to beat the drum.

“The most important of all the drums,” [Ogotemmêli] says, “is the talking drum.  It is the Nommo who made it.” “He threaded it with his fingers, as children do today with string games. Spreading his hands, he passed the thread ten times in each of his four fingers, the thumb not being used. He thus …

The Baobab, Muse and Myth-maker

Aquarelle painting of a Baobab tree in Géraldine Gabin's travel diary. The twisted Baobab is outlined in black ink, only fruits and flowers grow from its leafless branches.

“A majestic tree with a massive trunk, the baobab reigns in nature’s midst like a lion among animals. Its huge, tortured, root-like branches give credence to the belief that, thanks to them, it derives its strength from sky.” ― Sylviane Janin The Baobab, as Muse This icon of the West African savanna ― noble, venerable, …

The Sogo Bò Masquerade

Mask of the god of water, Faro, at the Sogo Bo festival

Nin sogo. Nin sogo tè sogo ye. Nin sogo ye jinè ye. This animal.  This animal is not an animal. This animal is a spirit *Chant of the Malian Masquerade Sogo bò (Bamana – the animals come forth) or Do bò (Bozo – the secret comes forth)  Sogo bò, Through the Eyes of  the Observer “We were in the center of the village and children, …

The Masons of Djenné

Annual plastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali. Photography of a master mason spreading plaster on the wall of the mosque while other masons climb the scaffolding in the background.

“When an Agama lizard sees you coming, it jumps onto a wall. It doesn’t fall because it has ‘special’ powers. Those powers are the same that we masons use. Those are secret.” ― Master Mason Konbaba Tennepo The Master Mason The master mason makes his way through the maze of twisting alleyways, staircases, rising spires, …

Ode to the Kola Nut

Abstract painting of figures gathered around a bowl of red kola nuts, fruits that are cherished throughout West Africa.

“The word friendship in our society comes from this fruit. You must split it in two; one hand cannot clap; it takes two to make a sound. Everything that I do in art, as a visual form of expression, is [inspired] by this fruit. The kola nut, which has ritual and divine representation in the …

Twins

Twin Festival, a vodun cult of twins, in Ouidah, Benin

Whether kicking up red Sahelian dust or the sands of the lower-lying coastal plains, the footsteps of twins throughout West Africa leave an indelible print along a customarily unified, synchronous path. The Temne of Sierra Leone tell of mythological twin brothers miraculously stitching together two diverging roads, forever fusing their destinies. On whatever West African …