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Inside West Africa’s Griot Culture | Prince Diabaté | Mark’s Park

Prince Diabaté brings not only total mastery over his ancestral tradition, but a commitment to renew it through fresh ideas and exchanges with musicians from many cultures.

We invite you to take a look behind this special episode of Mark’s Park "An Evening with Prince Diabaté,” where we will get to know about the music and griot culture in West Africa.

Watch a preview or become a member to access more exclusive videos of Mark’s Park, a series that brings together the diverse group of people who call Venice Beach home in an effort to not only foster community but to connect the world through music and create positive change through music and arts education.

The storyteller of the people and the master of kora, Prince Diabate’s unique griot style

Prince Diabaté

Prince Diabaté hails from a prominent Malinke family from Guinea, West Africa. He learned his art from his father, Djéli Sory Diabaté. Breaking with tradition, Djéli Sory also taught Prince's mother to play kora and the young boy became an exceptionally early starter by accompanying his parents to their concerts throughout West Africa. At the age of nine he caught the attention of the former President of Guinea, the late Ahmed Sekou Touré, who enrolled him into the national music school.

The kora is considered the instrument of the griot people in West Africa and the Mandinka Empire, Prince Diabaté brings not only total mastery over this ancestral tradition, but a commitment to renew it through fresh ideas and exchanges with musicians from many cultures.

In his years in the USA, he has produced collaborations with artists and groups such as The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Adam del Monte (Flamenco), Paul Livingstone (sitar) and Grammy winners Ozomatli (Hip-Hop/Latin rock.)

What makes Prince Diabate a unique griot is his musically adventurous style, incorporating reggae, rap and blues into his work as well as the music of the Wassolou people to his repertoire, which he plays self-taught on the kamelen n'goni. Currently based in France, he has produced three studio albums with a fourth released in September 2022.

Stories from the past and present delivered through music

“When a griot dies it is like a library burns because we did not write the history on paper before. A griot has the story in his head and when he passes away, he is going with the story.”

- Prince Diabaté: To Be A Griot

    In the region of West Africa known as the western Sahel, legendary tales are shared and passed down through different forms of expression. Griots of western Africa, from Senegal and across Mali and Nigeria use oral traditions which date back over 2,000 years.

    Griot 2 landscape
    Griot 1 portrait

    These stories are shared by people known as griots. Born into their highly respected position, griots play an important role as storytellers as well as poets, historians and musicians. Griots recite stories and poems not only as an artistic expression, but they are meant to express certain incidents or circumstances of the past as well as unfolding the important moments of some rites like initiations, baptisms and funerals.

    These stories would be a part of a griot’s everyday life and will be often accompanied by songs and music from instruments like the kora or the balafon (african xylofon).

    Since its origin, the kora has been constructed out of specific materials from animals like sheeps, goats, cows or antelopes to harvest materials such as gourds, wood, and sinew. This instrument is related to the harp and lute, and is one of the oldest African instruments that has been in existence since the 13th century.

    Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté - Jarabi

    Since its origin, the kora has been constructed out of specific materials from animals like sheeps, goats, cows or antelopes to harvest materials such as gourds, wood, and sinew. This instrument is related to the harp and lute, and is one of the oldest African instruments that has been in existence since the 13th century.

    Balafon style "Sénoufo" - Adama Diabaté - BaraGnouma

    The balafon or xylofon originated in Africa and Asia. It was originally made from a series of hollow wooden bars that, when hit, produced resonating notes. African xylophonists had the widest variety of instruments, including some that were plucked instead of hammered and lightweight instruments that were suspended on a rope around the player's neck.

    Listen to some PFC performances featuring the kora and more traditional artists from West Africa.

    Mark's Park EP7: West Africa Night featuring Biko & Arouna

    Biko Casini and Arouna Diarra are known as members of world folk band Rising Appalachia, who play a number of traditional African instruments, including the n’goni, balafon, djembe and more.

    Dunya | Alou Sam and friends | Live Outside

    Djigui | Salif Diarra Band | Live Outside

    Check out this song titled, "Djigui" meaning "hope" in the land of Burkina Faso in West Africa. This song was written and performed by Salif Diarra along with Massa Dembelé, Noumassan Dembelé, and Soumana Coulibaly.

    Dreams of Kirina | Baaba Maal

    Drapeau | Habib Koité

    “Drapeau” (a French surname for flag) was recorded and filmed live in Bamako, Mali on a trip to visit the PFCf music school in the ancient village of Kirina.

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