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Lambango (CD1, Tk22)

Performed by Mande jalis in The Gambia and recorded by Roderic Knight in 1970.

Mariatu Kuyateh, vocal; Kekuta Suso, kora; Seni Jobateh, speech and tapping.

Jaliya (praise song sung by jalis/griots)


This is a jali/griot song of praise. One of three instruments is traditionally used by a griot for accompaniment-either the kora, the balafon, or the possible banjo ancestor, the akonting (or similar instrument, such as the ngoni; see Lesson Five). They can also play together in ensembles. But of these, the most popular, especially in The Gambia, is the harp/guitar-sounding kora, which has between 21 and 25 strings. The kora can be tuned to one of four seven-note scales. In this case it is in a tuning called sauta, which, if in C, would use notes that approximate C D E F# G A B. During the singing, the kora plays a repeating musical phrase (ostinato). Kora players call this pattern a kumbengo. Between verses, the kora does more improvisatory playing, called birimintingo. You will hear one of the performers tapping a rhythm on the body of the kora. This tapping is referred to as konkon.

            Praise songs generally have two aspects: a pre-composed refrain (donkili), and improvisation (sataro). The sataro can also be more spoken or chant-like. While the jali knowledge, the histories (in some detail), and singing/playing techniques are traditionally passed down from father to son, there are also women jalis, who are among the most honored. The singers in this recording are husband and wife. The opening words refer to the performers themselves, saying that the speaker is Kekuta Suso, who is with Seni Jobateh and Mariatu Kuyateh, and that they are recording today.

            Events in the lives of three Gambian leaders are recounted in Lambango. The leaders are praised using proverbs and various poetic expressions. One of the leaders, Musa Molo, was the last mansa (king) of the Gambia's Mandinka people. The French, Portuguese, and British divided his territory in the first part of the 1900s. As a patron to Gambian jalis, Musa Molo is prominent in many praise songs. He is sometimes referred to in praise songs as The Great Bar of Soap, meaning that he was as valuable to his people as a bar of soap is to someone washing clothes. (See Lesson Five for a description of a griot song that actually details the beginning of the slave trade.)


00:00   The kora begins and soon falls into an ostinato/kumbengo, the repeating pattern.

00:05   Section praising Musa Molo begins. Spoken voice. Notice how it seems rhythmically free of the kora pattern. The konkon (the tapping on the kora body) is a fairly steady repeating beat.

00:13   The singing voice (donkilo) answers. The interchange will continue for the entire song.

00:25   The complicated ostinato continues under both the spoken and sung vocal parts. There are slight embellishments in the ostinato, with more freedom between phrases.

00:34   The singing voice has a lot of energy in comparison to the spoken part. 

00:40   Embellishments in the kora between sung phrases.

00:46   The exchange between the two vocalists speeds up. The speaker offers only one phrase, while the singer sings several longer phrases.

01:10   Speaker reenters.

01:13   Longer musical interlude.

01:14   Singer returns. Notice the quick repeated notes at the end of the phrases. She ends the Musa Molo section.

01:16   Section praising Dembo Danso, another leader, starts.

01:30   Short spoken phrase.

01:35   Notice that there are very few long notes being sung. The lyrics have many syllables that are spoken and sung quickly. This does not allow for ornamentation but it does allow for complicated melodic activity when sung.

01:45   The beginning of each sung phrase has the most melodic activity. The ends of the phrases use the same note for several of the last syllables, which creates cadences.

01:51   Notice the speed of the spoken phrase and how it does not align with the accompanying ostinato.

01:58   In comparison, the sung phrases are more related to the rhythm of the kora.

02:11   The vocal melody continues to have the same shape; starting high in pitch and moving down to the relaxed repeated notes at the end of the phrase.

02:28   Final spoken phrase.

02:34   Start of praise for the third leader, Jewunu Kurubali.

02:54   Fade on spoken part. He is saying, The great one is gone. Peace be upon you.

02:58   End.

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Produced in Partnership by Coast Learning Systems, a division of Coastline Community College, for instructional use.
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(c)Coast Community College District, David W. Megill, and Donald D. Megill, 2005