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Last on

Sat 9 Jun 2012 15:30 BBC Radio 4 FM only

Duration:
28 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 05 June 2012

How are modern musicians re-imagining the role the West African griot? Traditionally griots belong to particular West African families who act as oral historians, advisors, story-tellers and musicians for their culture. Now a generation of artists living in the West, who have African roots, are learning musical techniques from the masters but creating songs and stories with contemporary relevance.

In a programme rich in musical sounds and poetic storytelling, writer Gaylene Gould explores what it means to be a griot today. When modern culture uses the term as a shorthand - what does it mean to call someone a griot?

Hereditary griot Seckou Keita, leads a music workshop at a primary school, teaching harp-like instrument the Kora. At the age of 10, Tunde Jegede travelled from England to Gambia to train with a master kora player. He now collaborates with both orchestras and the hip-hop artist HKB FiNN - who has changed the way he approaches writing lyrics and embraced the griot label. Sona Jobarteh, Tunde's sister, is a hereditary griot. She gives Gaylene a lesson in kora playing and discusses how her sex affects the role and why she is reluctant to call herself a griot.

Award winning poet and performer Inua Ellams has been performing at the National Theatre and Malian musician Fatoumata Diawara sells out gigs internationally- both are called griot by their fans but aren't entirely comfortable with the label. Fatoumata believes she couldn't address topics like female circumcision as a griot. London based spoken word artist Zena Edwards explains why she wants to honour the tradition.

Reflecting on the importance of the tradition in its purest form, Tunde Jedege says "every time a griot dies it's like a library burning down."

Producer Claire Bartleet.

  • Writer and Presenter Gaylene Gould

    Writer and Presenter Gaylene Gould

    Photograph by Naomi Woddis

    Gaylene's webpage
  • Spoken word artist HKB FiNN whose collaborations include working with Tunde Jegede

    Spoken word artist HKB FiNN whose collaborations include working with Tunde Jegede

    photograph by Yoshitaka Kono

    HKB FiNN 2012 Gigs:
    India tour (Various cities, June 14th-July 1st)
    Berlin (Club Concert, August 17th)
    African Messiah Royal Opera House, September 2nd

    HKB FiNN
  • Poet, Playwright and Performer Inua Ellams

    Poet, Playwright and Performer Inua Ellams

    photograph by Naomi Woodis

    Inua Ellams
  • Malian musician and actress Fatoumata Diawara

    Malian musician and actress Fatoumata Diawara

    Fatoumata Diawara's debut album Fatou is out now

    Fatoumata's webpage
  • Griot Seckou Keita helping to teach his young cousins to play the Kora at his family home in Senegal

    Griot Seckou Keita helping to teach his young cousins to play the Kora at his family home in Senegal

    Photograph by Josh Pulman

    An EP download entitled Rewmi comes out on June 4th and Seckou Keita’s album Miro will be released in September

    Seckou's webpage
  • Composer and musician Tunde Jegede who fuses Classical, African and Popular music

    Composer and musician Tunde Jegede who fuses Classical, African and Popular music

    Photograph by Sunara Begum

    Currently working on a new production entitled 'African Messiah' which will be performed at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House in London on Sunday 2nd September 2012

    Tunde's webpage
  • Sona Jobarteh playing the Kora, a 21-string West African harp

    Sona Jobarteh playing the Kora, a 21-string  West African harp

    Sona's webpage
  • Zena Edwards

    Zena's webpage

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