An Afropolitan Muse

Sidiki Diabate on stage

This article discusses the moral positions and ethical projects of an urban music culture in contemporary Mali. The story unfolds through close and sustained analysis of a single audiovisual artifact: the music video for Sidiki Diabaté’s “Djeliya.” To begin with, the essay addresses the specifically “cultural” register of morality the video represents, through the local moorings and collective interests of a musical mode of being defined by kinship, traditional aesthetics, and a rich oral historical consciousness: jeliya. In the mix are the author’s own memories of life among the Diabaté griots, going back nearly two decades.

Rooted in the music culture of jeliya, the essay then considers the ethical routes of modern griots like Sidiki Diabaté, whose performance practices and cultural productions emerge from but cannot be reduced to moral topoi; who cultivate a sense of self in the world mindful of heritage and tradition. Yet, there are other moral and ethical stories to tell about this video, the music culture it represents, and the African society of which it is a part. Watching and listening at a time of internecine conflict and regional turmoil, the article considers the “absent presences” that inform (and sometimes haunt) the video’s contemporary reception. Beyond culture, the social imperatives of the nation, city, religion, aesthetics, social media, and professional identity come into focus to evoke a complex, urban African structure of feeling: Afropolitanism.

Source: Research in African Literatures via JSTOR (subscription required)

Photo Credit: Dani Alvarez


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Research in African Literatures (Indiana University Press)
Year 2015
Author(s) Ryan Thomas Skinner
Other Numbers Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer 2015), pp. 15-31
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