SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Securing a global stage for Malian artists and their music

The Segu Blue album cover

Research by Lucy Duran, Senior Lecturer in African Music, has not only raised global awareness of the ‘ngoni’, which, dating from the 12th century or earlier, is the oldest of the West African lutes, but has also brought Malian musicians to world fame. 

Dr Duran has studied the traditional musical forms, cultural practices and instruments of Mali since the late 1980s. In her multiple roles as researcher, music producer and broadcaster she has examined how music encapsulates and communicates the core values of southern Malian identities.   

Working with Bassekou Kouyate, a respected Bamana musician, Dr Duran recorded an experimental acoustic album that showcased the distinctive features of traditional Bamana ngoni music. As a producer, she strongly encouraged Kouyate to remain true to his musical traditions. The result was the 2007 album ‘Segu Blue’, which reached number three in the World Music Charts in 2007 and was awarded two BBC Radio 3 Music Awards. 

A second album, ‘I Speak Fula’ also received popular and critical acclaim and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album of 2010. Duran’s championship and sensitive production of this artist and traditional music from a remote swathe of the Niger introduced to global audiences a new type and sound of Malian music. 

Furthermore, Dr Duran has contributed to changing the fortunes of Kouyate, his family and the local community in his native Segou and beyond. The success of the albums she produced has reinvigorated interest in the ngoni in Mali. Kouyate has used the proceeds of his success to found a music school in Bamako and is exporting ngoni internationally to satisfy newly-found global demand.