International Teen Blogger: Music influencing World Culture: Griots

I’ve blogged about music with my bit on the ukulele, but I haven’t written about the role music plays in history. It’s a very broad topic, so I might even start a series of posts just about the impact of music on culture! Just from a little research, I found that music has affected a lot of revolutionary political and cultural movements. Aside from the modern day roles we have seen music play, the roles music has taken in the past have had a great impact. For example, African countries didn’t have formal writing systems and therefore could only preserve their history through music and poetry. Without music, hundreds of years of history would be lost! The main point I’d like to write about is how music has influenced early west African civilizations and what it has done to help preserve its history.

In west African civilizations, the people responsible for preserving history through poetry and song were called griots; the females were known as griottes. Both female and male griots were considered sacred to the community they were in. They would sing completely from memory of past leaders, family lineage, predictions, and histories of agricultural seasons, marriages, children, divorces, deaths, births, and politics. A griot occupied a position of prestige and honor that was passed down from parents to children. From a young age, a child would listen to and learn the songs their parents were singing and be able to pass them down to another generation of their own. Along with their voices, griots also used instruments called koras to accompany their songs; the sound is said to resemble a flamenco guitar. At times, it would be necessary to compose and sing songs on the spot of the events occurring around them. As reward for their songs, people would give them objects in thanks. At times these gifts could be small such as food or a blanket. Other times, grand gestures would be the result of a composed song. These people would keep all the songs of their lifetime in their memory and have to pass down every lyric to their child.

When a griot dies, a library is burned to the ground.” 

The importance of these people were their ability to keep in their memory songs of history and remarkable people. In particular, the history of the Mali empire was mostly preserved and passed down from the songs of griots. Today, even with the modern ability to write and record history, the songs of the griots remain a remarkable aspect of west african culture and exemplify the role music plays in world culture.

http://news.psu.edu/story/140694/2002/05/01/research/keepers-history

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/246348/griot

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oral_History_in_Modern_Mali (sorry for referencing wikipedia but this had a lot of good information)

http://ctl.du.edu/spirituals/literature/griot.cfm (Website from which the quote was obtained)

Ale, 15 years, International Teen Blogger

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