Baala Guimba Diakité, the Badougou Kònò

Today's post features a recording by the late Baala Guimba Diakité, an icon of Mande music and poetry.  Baala Guimba Diakité was the most revered sora of his generation.

The Donso-tonw, or hunters' association, is one of the oldest social instutitions in Mande society, predating the formation of the rigid hierarchies (horon-freemen, nobles or peasants; casted groups such as blacksmiths and griots, and slaves) that shaped centuries--from the 13th to the 20th--of Mande history.  It is one of the few traditional institutions open to initiates from all ethnic groups and social origins.  The Malian author Youssouf Cisse writes that, 'of all the institutions of the Manding, it is the hunters' brotherhood that remains the conservator of the true values of Malinké civilization.' 

To be a Donso, or hunter, is to 'know the bush, its natural and supernatural life, to participate in the transcendance of the universe, to become a custodian of magical forces and to hold the power of life and death over all living beings.  It is also to devote oneself to the public good, to protect society against evil, to maintain the social order and to assure the subsistence of your loved ones by hunting game for them' (Arseniev, my translation).

Baala Guimba Diakité was both a donso and a sora, an epic poet who immortalized and sang the praises of the donso.  Guimba Diakité was  born in the town of Baala, in 1928.  His father was a donso, as were his paternal ancestors.  And from an early age, Guimba was initiated into the secrets of the bush, studying the medicinal and healing properties of plants.  He lost his sight during his teenage years and turned to music to ease his solitude and isolation.  He taught himself the sinbi, a seven string calabash harp--unlike other calabash harps from the region (the kora, the donso ngoni, the kamele ngoni) the sinbi uses steel strings, often unwound bicycle brake cables.

Baala Guimba Diakité did not apprentice with a master sora.  He taught himself, memorizing and personalizing a cannon of epic poems; he is said to have been able to recite, from memory, 44 epic poems, one for each of the 44 gwede, or master hunters, of the Mande.  Baala Guimba overcame his father's initial resistance to his becoming a sora, and by the late 1950s was reknown among donso for his poetical and musical talent and prodigious memory.  Over the years his influence spread, despite his relatively limited number of recordings, beyond the confines of the donso-tonw.  His melodic style influenced the music of the Rail Band de Bamako and in particular its most famous singers Mory Kanté and Salif Keita.  (I have read of a 1991 Salif Keita documentary that features footage of Baala Guimba Diakité.  If you have a link, please don't hesitate to share.)

The late scholar Tord Olsson, who knew Baala Guimba Diakité, wrote, '[he is] a creative artist who chose to work within the traditional framework of the oral genres.  He composed a coherent work of oral art which was woven from other "texts", which he reshaped and connected into a self-contained "grand-text"...His songs contain 'text' variants which no man has sung before, but that also stay within the Mande Tradition.  Hunter, magician, poetic chronicler and creative artist, are epitomized in the person of Baala Guimba'.         

Baala Guimba Diakité performed primarily for donso-tonw rituals, especially funeral ceremonies.  He retired from performing in 1996, at the age of 68, just as a new generation of sora were becoming, thanks to commercial recordings, nationally known musicians and performing artists.  The Badougou Kònò, or songbird of Badougou (his native region), as he liked to be called, passed away on December 25, 2011, at the Hopital Gabriel Touré in Bamako.  He was buried in Baala, four days later.

Don't miss this beautiful video of Balla Guimba Diakité shot by Malian television!

As far as I know, there are only four officially released recordings of Baala Guimba Diakité, a series of three cassettes produced by the Mission Francaise de Cooperation et d'Action Culturelle and released by EMI, entitled Baala Guimba Diakité Mande Mori Volumes 1-3, and this 2005 CD released by the Musée National du Mali.  Eric Charry, in the discography section of his book, also lists an unspecified number of recordings housed at the Institut des Sciences Humaines in Bamako (are these recordings made by the Malian researchers Brahima Camara and Dosseh Joseph Coulibaly who studied Baala Guimba's texts?) and an unlabeled Malian market cassette.

Here are the second and third volumes of the EMI cassettes.

Download Baala Guimba Diakité - Mande Mori Volume 2 

Download Baala Guimba Diakité - Mande Mori Volume 3

Many thanks to Ngoni for his major contributions to this post (see comments below)!

This post draws, heavily, on the research of Eric Charry, Tord Olsson, Karim Traore, Youssouf Cisse, and Vladimir Arseniev.

Here is the original file that I had posted, erroneously believing that this was a recording of Balla Guimba Diakité.  This recording features Balla Diakité from Filadougou, playing the Fle-ngoni, the Bambara version of the thumb piano.

Download Balla Diakité de Filadougou

This is one of the hundred cassettes I purchased from Dramane Doumbia at the Sogoniko bus station in Bamako, back in 2003.  It features a well recorded performance of 'L'Histoire de Daouda 1'.  According to this article, Balla Diakité was born in Kita, is not a griot, and has made several recordings for Malian national radio.  He was discovered during the annual 'semaines nationales de la jeunesse' (I don't know in what year).   Thanks to Ngoni posting this video to Youtube, we can also enjoy this wonderful performance by Balla Diakité on national television, who thoughtfully provided a split screen so we can understand how Balla Diakité plays the Fle-ngoni.

Is this Balla Diakité blind as well? 



  1. Matthew thank you once again for your contribution to a brighter world.

    Sorry to have to tell you that there is an error in this post,
    L' Historie de Daouda corresponds to Balla Diakité of Filadougou playing the Fle-nkoni, not to Baala Guimba Diakité of Balla playing the Simbi,
    but also very interesting.

    As your introduction to Baala Guimba Diakité seems to me very good and tight,
    to complete it,
    I offered you the Vol.2 of Baala Guimba Diakité that coincidentally, I had digitized in two versions, the first one as it comes in the EMI cassette, and another retouched version ( with the audio 'edited', channels balanced in volume in B side, and also a little equalized on the A side for easier listening).

    I will also provide some of the information you requested, about videos, but it will be at another moment, right now I do not have the time...

  2. Ngoni, thanks so much for your correction!!!

    And thanks for the links to the Baaka Guimba cassette. I have volume three which I listened to several times this week while preparing the post. I had assumed that the differences in vocal and instrument timbres between the recording I posted and the EMI cassette were due to differences in time, that the cassette I posted was been recorded decades before the EMI cassette. It never occured to me that there could be two Balla Diakités, with different spellings, and with similar musical universes (at least for the uninitiated).

    This blog is an opportunity for me to make sense of the music I have collected over the years and the musics that interest me most are non-commercial recordings, that were only shared or distributed among the initiated. And I am definitely not initiated into the intricacies of Malian music or culture. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and improving my posts!!

    Do you know anything more about Balla Diakité from Filadougou?


  3. I've got a little time ...
    Bala, Balla or Baala Guimba or Balla Jimba Diakité are used interchangeably, so it is convenient to specify origin or other data so as not to confuse personalities.

    I also have Vol.1 but I'm missing Vol.3

    I remember many years ago I was looking for that recording of Balla Guimba in a film about Salif Keitá, the result I think was to find only a few seconds of Balla walking, but it does not appear in my files.

    Badougou Kono, if I am not mistaken, Badougou on this occasion, is a contraction of Beledougou, for the Bamana Kingdom of Beledougou on the west side of the river Djoliba (Niger), brother of the Bamana Kingdom of Kaarta on the eastern margin.

    The style of the Donsos of Beledougou is related to the style of the Donsos Malinké is a heptagonal rhythm and uses the Simbi as an accompaniment instrument, the classical melody is known as "Donso Foli", Balla Guimba took it to perfection.

    The Malian researchers Brahima Camara and Dosseh Joseph Coulibaly, are the co-authors of the two films I share, "Donso Ton Mystike" and "Donso Ton un Monde", in both we can see and listen to explanations of Balla Jimba, the background music It's also form Balla and Sadie Diakité's.

    A video with Balla Guimba son.

    About Balla Diakité sanza player I do not know much, I have some video.


    1. Ngoni, thanks again for all of your help! These videos are wonderful. I have updated the post, embedding two of the videos you shared. I have also corrected the original files I posted, and added download links to your copy of Balla Guimba volume 2. I have also added a download link to Volume 3 so you can complete your collection! If you have volume 1 and have the energy to upload the file I would be happy to include a link to Volume 1 as well, completing the EMI collection for other readers.

      Very best matthew

  4. can't wait for volume 1 unless that is the first file
    ngoni listed. i think perhaps i am confused.
    if there is a vol 1 ngoni that would be fantastic.

  5. @roberth is just a tagging error, the two files I have offered are from vol.2,
    the one that is labeled "edited" is slightly processed, because I was annoyed listening with so many highs and lows of volume (surely Balla Guimba was not oriented continuously towards the microphone).
    At the moment, I have not had the opportunity to digitize the vol.1


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