Daybo

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

The Weaver

Close up of the hands of a Dyula weaver, threading the shuttle though the loom.

Somewhere in the Futa Tooro region of Senegal, a Tukolor weaver, or mabube, reenacts an ancient ritual. He gathers his loom parts — pulley, wheel, shuttle, beater that have been carved for him and him alone — bringing them back, each and every day, to a framework that does not uniquely belong to him. Although he …

Rhythm

Hands creating a rhythm on a djembe drum.

“Rhythm is the soul of life. The whole universe revolves in rhythm. Everything and every human action revolves in rhythm.” ― Babatunde Olatunji   The Integral Nature of West African Rhythm So synonymous is rhythm with life and movement, that many sub-Saharan languages, like Igbo, Efik, Hausa and Yoruba, do not have a distinct, disambiguating, …

The Griot

Three paintings of a griot in three different phases of praise-singing, accompanied by his talking drum.

Above the din of everyday culture — from the spontaneous chatter of the marketplace to the polyphonic rhythms of the traditional shuttle loom, anvil or pestle — rises the acoustic poetry of the West African griot. If it is through the beautiful cacophony of the day-to-day that people assert the present, then it is by …

The Power of Words

Painting of faces, some listening, some speaking.

The ‘word’ in West African cultures, once loosened from the lips as if drawing back the strings of a talisman pouch, diffuses a special force, the primal energy of creation itself. To speak is to exhale an active essence, Oro according to the Yoruba of Nigeria and Benin. For the Mande — ranging from coastal …