Songs and rtythms of the Mandingue community

The village of Malemba is situated thirty-odd kilometres from the "tarmac" (the road), in the district of Koumpentoum, in the region of Tamba Counda (Eastern Senegal). The small town of Koumpentoum is a crossroads where several ethnic groups live, among which are the Mandingoes, the Peuls, the Wolofs and the Sereres, as well as a small Moorish community and a few Manjack families. The Koumpentoum district forms the heart of a region traditionally known under the name of Niani, which means "tiredness" in Mandingo. According to legend, at the beginning of the 1800s, after a long journey, two brothers from Mali – formerly called Sudan or the Mandingo Empire – settled in the region to found their kingdom. Today, the village of Koumpentoum Socè, where they established their county town still enjoys great prestige among the local populations. In recognition of this respect, during traditional Mandingo ceremonies (baptisms, marriages, etc.), an offering is systematically sent as a tribute to the founding village of Koumpentoum Socè. Other historical villages have grown in the Niani. They are Ndjambour, Kissang, Ndoungoussine, Douba, Goundiour, Kouwo Socè, Malemba and Kouthia Gaydy. Practically all the inhabitants of these villages bear the same family names: the Camaras, the Ndome, the Ndao, ... Marriages take place within the community and are arranged by the parents: "cousins are made for cousins".

The inhabitants of the Niani have the reputation of being courageous but also mistrustful. They were excellent warriors. Over time, they were gradually attributed with increasingly supernatural powers, such as taming the bees and using them during combat.

The Mandingoes of the Niani were Islamized towards the middle of the 19th century. Their conversion was subsequently accelerated with the arrival in the region of the Peuls and the Wolofs. There are however, even today, many testimonies to the Mandingo attachment to their animist traditions. Thus, the villages of Ndoungoussine, Koumpentoum Socè and Goundiour enjoy a magic protection prohibiting the access of chiefs - including the administrative authorities - on pain of falling prey to a curse that will strip them of their authority. The Mandingoes, a minority group in Senegal, are related to the Bambara, the majority ethnic group of Mali.

The economic activity of the Niani consists of essentially agro-sylvo-pastoral practices. Each family possesses their own field, but during the winter season, i.e. the rainy season (from June to October), work in the fields is generally carried out collectively. The main crops are millet, corn and peanuts, and to a lesser degree, cotton. The mechanization of agricultural work is practically inexistent and so draught and packsaddle animals still play an important role in the rural economy. Through necessity, each farmer in the Niani is also a cattle breeder, even though this is an activity traditionally practised by the Peuls.

Musical practices
The traditional Mandingo repertory is transmitted orally, from generation to generation. It includes marriage, circumcision and struggle songs. All are generally accompanied by dancing and interpreted by the women, with the exception of circumcision songs, sung exclusively by the men. The songs are spontaneously accompanied by percussion. Among the percussion instruments there are three types of drum, which are very widespread throughout Western Africa: the bélin, a long drum with a single membrane that gives the beat, the koutourba (big drum) and the koutourding (smaller), which provide an accompaniment.
The Mandingoes, like the Bambara of Mali, also use the djidoumdoum, "water drum", consisting of a basin or half a big calabash filled with water upon which a smaller upside-down half-calabash floats. The smaller calabash is struck in accompaniment to the songs (tracks 3 and 7). This percussion instrument is also found in other West African cultures, notably in the Central African Republic, where it is played, as it is among the Mandingoes, exclusively by the women.

CD tracks

  1. Yéyéwayangoyewayeko Ndiaye
    A king has been overthrown; the news spreads throughout the savannah.
    "The king of the Wolof fell at dawn.
    Some have not yet heard the news.
    A song must be sung."

  2. Yéyéyé Kanossédjindjé Badiya
    This welcoming song underlines the importance of family, relatives and greetings.
    Etiquette and politeness require that each time acquaintances meet, each inquire after the other person's family.
    After the introduction, wherein the toubabs (the whites) are greeted and reference is made to these recordings ("our voices will be on the radio, because these toubabs recorded them")1, this song evokes the importance of marriage: "A man without a wife is a child".

  3. Yayayaya
    "Something has fallen".
    This ancient song accompanied excision ceremonies, now prohibited.

  4. Donno Bongnato
    This song warns travellers of the dangers and entreats the bad spirits to leave their path.

  5. Djiba wo djarila Djiba Danfa
    "A woman has just had a baby".
    Djiba Danfa has been "sold". Her friends are happy for her, because she has found a husband.
    Custom holds that a man must give a dowry to his family-in-law in order to be able to marry.

  6. Namounwo Kinty
    "The young wife's response"
    In this ancient song, reference is made to an enduring tradition that, during the first months of her marriage, a young wife wears a loincloth simply draped over her head. Only later will the loincloth be knotted and become moussor (turban).

  7. Nialimba
    This old song, originally sung by slaves (taken prisoner during war) was part of the enthronement rites of Mandingo kings.

1. This record was recorded in Malemba, in the Tamba Counda region on April 12 and 13, 2003 during the Premières Rencontres culturelles du Niani, organized on the initiative of the women's association, Kambing ("harmony"), and Colophon, with the support of the rural radio station, Niani FM.