Daybo

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

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 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 …

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, …

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 …

The Puppeteer

The heads of two West African puppets articulated at the mouth and adorned with cowrie shells, awaiting the puppeteer.

The West African puppeteer lurches, leans and sways, giving himself over to the demands of his carved creation. He is at once ajogi, a Yoruba dancer of the wooden image, and nyamakala, a Malinke force-handler, as he pulls on the ropes and rods of some of the oldest and richest of Africa’s surviving puppetry traditions. …