African music is a collective art and plays an important part in African cultures and lifestyles. Having understood that songs are of great value in African education and are used to inculcate in people significant rules of conduct, examining the content of some songs is of great significance. The particular focus of attention is on women’s song texts, and especially on professional female bards of Mandinka culture, female jali or jalimuso, known also by the French term griotte. The origins of this culture can be traced back to the thirteenth-century Empire of Mali, where the society was divided in three categories: the nobles, the artisans and the captives. West African jali, the common name for both males and females, bellowed to the second category: they were, and still are, the “artisans of the word”. Their oral traditions and verbal art have been passed down through many centuries.
While ample attention has been paid to the male jali, the female jalimuso has received far less attention. The scarce research done up to now, as far as we know, has focused mainly on jalimuso in Mali and in the Gambia. This master’s thesis explores the situation in southern Senegal with emphasis on the permanence of the tradition, the conditions of the profession of jalimuso, their role in society, the contents of their songs and lastly their relation to musical instruments. The study is based on a stay of two months in two different areas in Casamance, and the collected data consists of songs, recordings, observation, and 17 interviews with 20 practicing locals, 17 of them jalimusolu.
The first part puts these women in a context: it defines first the concepts of oral literature and ethnomusicology; it then continues with the state of researching on jali in general and jalimuso en particular, without intending to compare male and female jali; and finally, it presents the area studied from an ethnic, sociolinguistic and historic perspective. Another group of women, the dimba, are also assessed, since to a large extent they follow the same functions as the jalimusolu.
The major focus of the second part involves detailed analysis of the collected songs. They are written down in the original language, using official orthography, and then translated in French, the language of the thesis. This part also includes an account of different aspects of the profession as seen by the jalimusolu themselves.
The conclusion of this work is that the tradition remains, though it is stronger in inland areas than on the coast. More than half of the songs’ corpus has a laudatory character, jalis specialization, through which the jalimuso exalts individual social virtues. Based on it, she plays a powerful role in a society that could not do without her.