Last Monday in class, professor Annachiara Raia spoke about the idea of encounter between us and an art creation. She spoke about how a novel, a poem or any sort of text could talk to us. If I think about one encounter of this kind, it comes to my mind the sound of the word ‘Manitoumani’. Soft and powerful, a whisper opening your eyes.

‘Manitoumani’ is the story of the encounter between two countries, two different cultures: Mali and France. It belongs to a bigger musical project shaped in an album called ‘Lamomali’, referring to the phonic contraction of the phrase ‘L’âme au Mali’ (The soul in Mali). Choosing the genre of the song, the authors transmit their message following a general poetry form accompanied by a particular melody. Nevertheless, this does not exclude its creativity nature; it rather connects it with a broader spectrum of possibilities. What does it make it original then? The authors, the French musician Matthieu Chédid – M – together with the Malian artists Fatoumata Diawara, Toumani Diabaté and his son Sidiki, decided to create a new way of communication. They created a unique style fusing Western pop music with the traditional music of Mali. Using French and Bambara (one of Mali’s language) as main languages in their standard register, they did not hesitate to integrate this code-switching. This way, their creation has more inclusive character, blurring the power relations lying behind both languages to create a new horizontality between them.

To analyse the message contained in this song, I will approach the lyrics from an author-orientated approach. This song was created by Matthieu Chédid – M – as a tribute to Toumani Diabaté, nowadays most famous virtuoso of the kora instrument – which I will address next. Therefore, I find such analysis approach the most pertinent to this case.

The first element that attracts our attention in both melody and lyrics is the presence of the kora. This 21-string harp-lute is one of the African instruments most known in the world, a symbol itself of the art in West Africa. Indeed, playing la kora is a question of a family tradition of griots[1] inherited and renovated by each generation for years. Bearing in mind the honouring aim of the song, the recurrent reference to the kora aims to represent his maître, Toumani Diabaté. Nevertheless, I will dare to go beyond the written words. The musical presence of this instrument is telling us something. It is transmitting us a powerful identity. It expresses the everyday feelings of joy and anger of Malian people; a whole reality perception communicated through music. This song aims to reinforce and valorise this specificity unifying the people around the instrument’s melody. The spectacular success of a concert celebrated in Bamako in January 2017 might evidence this power.

 ‘J'entends dans ta kora parfois même ta colère;
J'entends dans ta kora ton cœur qui bat, mon frère
J'entends dans ta kora l'enfant qui part en guerre
J'entends dans ta kora ton cœur qui bat, mon frére.’[2]

Going back to the text, we find some interesting references providing us with the keys to understanding the underlying meaning of the song. Starting with the above-stated sentences, they reflect the Malian people’s general feelings of fury and frustration at the moment of creation of this song. Indeed, this musical project was conceived the day after the terrorist attacks in Bamako took place on the 20th November, just a week after those on the 13th of November in Paris. Both countries faced somehow the same sort of “disaster” and the artists saw in it an opportunity to build bridges on mutual understanding and empathy. That is the reason why the use of the word “frère” becomes so important. It reflects the relationship of fraternity between the artists, which could be taken as a possible model of real closeness and solidarity between both peoples. What’s more, in the following sentences, we can read a message full of hope. The artists want to remind that the calm is coming after the storm, always having reasons to be thankful.

 ‘Même si j'entends aussi l'orage s'éloigner
Nos ivresses apaisées, la vie illimitée
Au-delà des désastres de nos biographies
Au-dessus des murailles de nos fausses vies’[3]

‘À vouloir changer le monde
C'est le monde qui l’a changé’[4]

Finally, we find this reference to Toumani Diabaté’s social role in Malian society, advocating for the valorisation and diffusion of this cultural heritage. This musical project could be an example of it. Firstly, it brings together the Malian society around an essential symbol of identity; secondly, it transmits the idea of compatibility between tradition and world-opened modernity.

There are few ways of communication more powerful than music. That is the main reason why many poems are now being retaken and adapted to the song form so they be can be more attractive and better understood. This is a good example. Mathieu Chédid, Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté and Fatoumata Diawara threw themselves into this adventure to transmit a straightforward message:

Don’t be afraid of the unknown; be creative, go beyond the established frontiers!

[1] ‘A person who sings or tells stories about the history and traditions of their people and community’ as defined by Oxford Dictionary

[1] ‘I hear in your kora sometimes your anger
I hear in your kora your beating heart, my brother
I hear in your kora the child who goes to war
I hear in your kora your beating heart, my brother’
[1] Even if I also hear the storm moving away
Our soothed drunkenness, unlimited life
Toumani Diabaté
Beyond the disasters of our biographies
Above the walls of our false lives
[1] ‘By wanting to change the world
It's the world that changed him’
Translation provided by