A Multitude of Traditions in Burkina Faso

Talking about “cultural diversity” is no cliché in relation to Burkina Faso (the former Upper Volta – renamed after the 1984 revolution of Thomas Sankara). This is a country of some sixty different ethnic groups. West and southwest Burkina Faso is mostly under the influence of Mande culture, which is shared with both Mali and Côte d’Ivoire.

The Dioula people settled their capital there, in BoboDioulasso, still a strategic commercial and cultural centre. Musically, its strongest traditions are those of balafon (xylophone) and percussion. The balafon tradition is shared by the Bwaba, Lobi, Dagara, Wara, Siamoux, Bobo and Toussian peoples. Ensembles internationally renowned for their performances of this music include Farafina, Badenya Les Frères Coulibaly, Djiguiya, Kady Diarra and Sabounyouma.

Burkina Faso has also produced some distinguished djembe players, such as Adama Dramé, known worldwide, and Désiré Ouattara, director of the ensemble Saramaya. Living in the centre of the country, the Mossi people represent half of Burkina’s population and have a strong griot tradition. The Larle Naaba, traditional head of all the Mossi griot musicians, still retains his traditional function vis-à-vis Mossi kings as a genealogist, counsellor, historian and musician. He has his own troupe and teaches musicians in his own royal court. Numerous musicians carry on the Mossi traditions, content with the success they enjoy among their own people; Zoubna Zanda, for example, can fill a stadium without needing any publicity.

Others, such as Prince Balzac, descended from the Tenkodogo royal family, are trying to modernise the music, as are the Soeurs Doga, whose vocal mastery and traditional rhythms have inspired young Burkinabé rappers. The northern part of Burkina is the home of the Fulbe people (also called Fula and Peul), the Bella and Touareg, who are closely linked to their cousins across the Mali and Niger borders. Their traditional music is splendid, with incredible voice techniques and fabulous hand-clapping rhythms. There are also strong musical traditions among the Senoufo, Gourounsi, Bissa and Nankana people in the south along the borders of Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Ghana.

Several times award winners at the Semaine Nationale de la Culture held in Bobo-Dioulasso, the Wuzzi group freely makes use of the djeka rhythm from the Bissa tradition. Sami Rama, meanwhile, also a Bissa but born in Abidjan, is set Festivals on pursuing an international career after winning the 2002 Kundé d’Or Best Singer award.

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