Culture & Art

Mali is among the continent’s most ancient states (outside of North Africa). Populated since the 5th millennium BC, it owes much to its position on the trans-Saharan trading route.

Land of empires of Ghana (c. 300-1100 CE), Mali (c. 1230-1450 CE.) and Songhoi (c.1450-1600 C.E.), Mali has a rich culture and history.

Mali has a very diverse people. Some of the many ethnic groups are: Bambara, Malinké, Peuls, Dogon, Soninké or Sarakolé, Bobo, Senoufo, Songhoi, Touareg, Khassonké, Toucouleur. These ethnic groups live in a perfect harmony thanks to their common heritage.
Some specifics about Malian culture are:

The relatives’ joke “Sinankunya” where two groups with privileged relations (two races or two clans of the same ethnic group) to exchange words that supposedly reveal the truths of each. The protagonists are obliged to accept such criticism often ferocious.

Djéliya "art practice that the griots, is to tell stories about families. The griots are present at every important occasion (wedding, baptism, religious festivals ...) so they are very aware of family history which they are linked.  The griots recall the past of Malian families, their ancestors so laudably. In exchange, the “diatigui” gives something (usually money, jewelry, clothing ...) to honor the memories evoked by the griot and show that he is worthy of praise that it made.

The griots are storytellers, vehicles of oral tradition, very high in Mali. That is why they are regarded as wells knowledge, storybooks alive. For many griots are the ancestors of rappers and thus the "Djéliya" the ancestor of rap. Indeed, the griots when they sing praise so very special. Their words are such a stream that follows a fairly repetitive instrumental punctuated by percussion.

Like its people, Malian music is very diverse, from the North to the South and from East to West one can hear a variety of sounds and melodies. Some of the renowned ambassadors of Malian music are part of world music superstars: Salif Keita (world music), Ali Farka Toure (Songhoi and blues music), Rokia Traore (Bamanan music), Oumou Sangare (Wassoulou music), Tinariwen (Touareg music) etc.

One the unique aspect of Malian music is the mainstream acceptance of female singers. Among others, Kandia Kouyate, Amy Koita, Tata Bambo, who cohabitate with the younger generation more open to modern instruments: Babani Kone, Mah Kouyate, Nayini Diabate and Djeneba Seck.

Although these female singers are not internationally famous, they are closely followed by their wide fan base for the moralizing nature of their lyrics, the perception that they embody tradition and their role as fashion trend-setters.

Malian people are very proud and attached to their music, which is an integral part of their daily life. The most popular traditional musical instruments are: Calabash, balafon, Kora, ngoni, ntaman, dunun

Some well-known Malian musical ambassadors -      

Salif Keita :
Ali Farka Touré :
Oumou Sangaré :
Rokia Traore:
Toumani Diabaté :
Habib Koite :
Mamadou Diabaté :
Cheick hamalla Diabate:

The traditions of Mali offer some of the richest cultural heritage in West Africa in the form of dance, poetry, music and arts. Art is integrated into every aspect of daily life: decoration, religious and economic purposes as well as health and well-being, and craftsmen work with wood, metals, fabric and leather.

-Textiles: Traditional and contemporary mud cloth (Bogolan), Natural Indigo-dyed cotton (Gala), Hand-Woven blankets and cloth.

The word Bogolan (mud cloth) is comprised of a common name “Bogo” which means land and a suffix “lan” that indicates something that can achieve a result. Over the past twenty years a handful of artists have upgraded this heritage, truly Mali, in giving it a contemporary dimension. Today, Bogolan can be seen anywhere in the world.

-Jewelry: Jewelry ‘importance in Malian society is expressed not only by beauty, but also for economic reason, a form of wealth. Moreover, they carry meanings. For instance, Silver symbolizes light and luck, gold success, and copper is often worn for protection. Its styles are associated with particular ethnic groups, such as the silver crosses and amulets worn by Touareg women and men, and the large gold earrings once popular among Fulani (Peuls) women.

-Pottery: Colorfully decorated handmade pottery is found in almost every Malian home. Women use clay pots for storing and cooling drinking water, or as incense burners. In rural areas, a beautifully made and decorated water pot and an incense burner are important items in the brides’ trousseau. One can find them in red-clay, white clay or traditionally-fired.

-Sculpture (and Masks): Malian artisans are skilled in creating extraordinary sculptures, statuettes and carvings out of wood, stone and clay. Perhaps, the most recognizable sculpture is “Ciwara”, an ornate wooden sculpture representing an antelope. Traditionally, Malian village chiefs would honor accomplished villagers by presenting them with this sculpture.

-Architecture: Mali has a very distinct and original architecture .There are two main styles: the Soudanese and the Neo Soudanese and the Sudan.

The Sudanese style is the traditional architecture: construction according to local styles using local materials such as fiber, straw and wood. This style is used in most main civil and religious buildings and monuments. For instance, The Great Mosque of Djenné is the largest mud brick building in the world and is considered by many architects to be the greatest achievement of the architectural style.

The Neo Sudanese appeared with French colonization: construction according to local styles using local materials combined with existing European techniques. Some recognizable public buildings are constructed in this style.


Malian Writers

Malian Writers

Malian Art & Craft

Malian Art & Craft


You are here: Home Mali-US relations About Mali Art & Culture