The Birth of Sundiata Keita is not an invented story. It is known and told across Francophone Africa to this day as a warrior story of kingship and battle. It is told as history from the 13 Century, passed down through griots; storytellers, praise singers and stores of cultural knowledge whose role is to preserve the culture and identity of a people.
During the recent upheavals in Mali, this was one of the stories which was forbidden to be told, as all traditional ceremonies and folklore were banned. Epic stories are rich reservoirs of cultural identity, so can be primary targets in turbulent times.
In African and Caribbean epic traditions, there is no separation between word, movement and song. Jan, Raymond and Kouame embody these traditions in their performances and invite audiences to join in, from the safety of their seats!
“Wonderful singing, richness of storytelling, enthusiasm and joy.” Audience Feedback
In choosing to tell this story, Jan Blake expressed her respect for the griots who hold the story’s traditions by choosing to tell a more rarely heard perspective – that of the three women who have a formative influence on Sundiata as a young boy. This also reflects her voice as a storyteller, known for her rich store of tales of powerful women, drawn from cultures across the globe and especially from Africa, the Caribbean and Arabia.
About the Music
Kouame and Raymond Sereba grew up in Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa.
“I can’t remember a story told by my father without songs. The musical bow (dodo) was traditionally used in a small group of people, usually by the eldest in the village, to bring them to the world of storytelling.” Kouame Sereba
The mouth bow is a twanged hunting bow, played with a tape-like string in the musicians’ mouth, which provides resonance as well as changes in timbre and tapped by a stick.
Guitars, Nordic flutes, djembe drums and kalimbas complement the mouth bows to provide a musical soundscape through which the story is woven. Jan, Raymond and Kouame have been working together – in different combinations – for over 20 years. Whenever they meet, they sing together. In association with performances, audiences can sign up for lively, friendly sessions with all three artists to participate in the singing traditions of West Africa.
Read more in the Old Woman show programme.