Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations

Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations is a unique project that celebrates two great musical cultures and their deep historical and cultural connections through the musicianship of young children. It follows on from a three-year, film-based research project – Growing Into Music – funded by the UK Arts & Humanities’ Research Council.

For full details and a documentary about the project, go to

From 2009-2012, our team documented, through film, the ways in which musical knowledge and skills are passed on within specialist musical families in both Mali and Cuba. In each country, we worked with families who are considered custodians of great musical traditions: the virtuoso drumming and singing of rumba in Cuba, and the extraordinary centuries-old music of hereditary “griots” in Mali. The children of these families are the protagonists of our films, as we follow their musical growth over time. We also consider how oral traditions in both countries interact with more formal schooling, the media, and other aspects of modern society.

The musical traditions of Mali and Cuba have strong stylistic links. These links were first established during the slave trade, as many slaves from West Africa were taken to the Caribbean. Then much later during the 20th century, Afro-Cuban music “returned” to Mali through commercial recordings and the radio, making a huge impact on the development of popular music in West Africa in general. As a consequence, many of even the most traditional musicians in Mali are familiar with Cuban music. In Cuba, on the other hand, there is little awareness of the sophisticated contemporary styles from Mali that are currently making waves in the world music market.

Mali-Cuba: Music across Generations set out to explore the connections between children in these two great cultures, and to share the exciting results of our investigation both with the families involved and the general public.

The first destination of our project was Bamako, Mali’s capital city. There, in January 2012, we organized screenings of our documentary films and a public music performance at the National Museum of Bamako, which saw most of the protagonists of our Mali documentary film perform on the same stage.

Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations then traveled to Cuba in March 2012, when we brought four Malian children to Havana and Matanzas to meet and work with their Cuban peers. The children participated together in a series of music workshops that culminated in a several joint performances, including a Mali-Cuba festival at the beautiful and newly refurbished Miramar Theatre in Havana.

We are editing a short film documenting the events in Mali and Cuba, which we hope will be released by late 2014 or early 2015.

Mali-Cuba: Music Across Generations found an ideal business partner in World Circuit Records, the multi-award winning independent UK label (Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate) that released the album Afrocubism, a collaboration between some of Cuba’s and Mali’s best musicians. World Circuit publicised our project and its outputs among international world music audiences.

“No one has ever made a film like this before. It is absolutely unique and it’s very important, because it’s a film that talks of the real basis of the Mande jeli tradition. it shows the “traditional school” method of passing on griot skills and knowledge  from father to son and mother to daughter, within the most significant bearers of the Mande griot tradition. All this is being lost now. When Malians see this, they will congratulate your project.”

Mme Fatou Toure, Director of cultural activities at Mali’s National Museum

“I am very grateful to Lucy, to Geoff, to Growing into Music, who have revealed to the families how much respect and love they feel for our traditions, and this has made the children feel very motivated. This is something very spontaneous and family-oriented for them, so everyday that sometimes they don’t even realize its importance. Growing into Music has helped them see that importance.”

Cari Diez, Vice-President of UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba)

“This is a timely and important project. World Circuit has lost many great artists of the older generation, we are very aware of the need to create a platform for the traditional modes of passing on musical knowledge, repertoire and skills that are so much a part of people’s identities.”

Nick Gold, Managing Director of World Circuit Records

%d bloggers like this: