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Djeli (also written as djeli), or Griots are an endogamous caste of performing artists, mediators, and historians that exist throughout West Afrika.


In Mande Djeli means blood. The most prominent understanding of the term has been the that djeli act as blood to their society, holding it's history and traditions. [1] However the term blood has also been interpreted as an expression of the the hereditary nature of the profession. [2]


"The Epic of Sundiata" outlines the introduction of the man who is considered to be the first djeli in the mid 14th century, Balla Fasséké. The story tells of Fasséké being given to Sundjata Keita, who would create of the Mali empire. Fasséké who would serve as his advisor has also considered the founder of Kouyate line of djeli. [3]


Jeliw is the art of djeli. This is often separated into three to several categories depending on the specific duties given in particular society common categories include:

Kele Mansa/Djeli Gnara: Djeli who are trained speakers

Balafodjeli: Dejli who are trained in learning instruments such as the balafone. Many intruments Djeli play are instruments they have in many cases have exclusive privileges to play.

  • Sene Djeli: Djeli whose inspire courage during farm work.
  • Keliomah-Djeli: Djeli with occult and mystical knowledge.
  • Kene-Djeli: Djeli who are sorcerors, blacksmiths and can provide circumscision.
  • Serawa Djeli: Singers, dancers well versed in proverbs and adages. [4]

While it is common for Djeli to have knowledge in more than one of these fields, generally a djeli masters only one of three major categories: speech (kuma), the vehicle for historical narrative, stories, geneaologies and proverbs; -song(donkili) whihch refers to melodies and lyrics that are unique to named pieces as well as the art of singing and expanding them; -instrument playing (Maninka: foli, Mandinka: kosiri) [5]

Sex Differences


Djeli performances often accompany instruments that they can even have exclusive rights in societies to play. Most instruments are also socially designated for men to play and common instruments used include:

  • The kora (a twenty-one-stringed harp)
  • The Koni (a four or five stringed lute)
  • The bala(fon) ( a xylophone). (pg 90)

Female Jelimuso/lu while excluded from a number of instruments are still able to play the karinyan (karingan). Jelimusolu accompany song and dance through twirling the narrow, tubular iron chime with one hand while hitting with metal rod the other.The Karinyan is typically thirty centimeters, or one foot long(pg. 93) [6]

Music and Speech

Before 1960 it was difficult for women to leave home for extended periods to learn new epics. Women storytellers therefore specialized in singing shorter stories with less historical content than stories told by djeli. Jelimuso therefore did not attact large audiences. With the introduction of television and radio, Jelimuso were able to recite epics on television or radio. The number of Jelimuso who perform speeches, song and story soared and since then dominated the storytelling profession in Mali while men accompany them through instruments. (320) [7]

African American Culture


The legacy of Jeliw remains in African American poetics, music and the centrality of orality in in African and African American contemporary culture. These characteristics include call-and-response, repetition, contraptunal rhythms . People or events are also referred to by symbolism and metaphors. Such artistic elements exist in blues, jazz, and hip hop music today. [8]


Similarly to how loudness can be a cue for the importance of a given subject in African American socities, djeli loudly tell stories and speak praises to gain the attention of those that the djeli is giving praise towards. This further emphasizes the importance of that which is being talked about. [9]