Learning Culture Through a Musical Practice with Manding Jalis in New York

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LEARNING CULTURE THROUGH A MUSICAL PRACTICE WITH MANDING JALIS IN NEW YORK Lisa Karen Feder, Ph.D. Cornell University 2007 This study depicts the music and culture of Manding jalis in New York through the perspective of non-African New Yorkers who interact with them. The non-Africans, the author included, move through the cross-cultural learning process as they attend live jali musical performances and learn to play and perform this music themselves. Jali refers to a person born into a particular caste and specific family lineage in the Manding region of West Africa. In Western literature, jalis are described as musicians, singers, oral-historians, advisers, diplomats, ceremony participants, teachers, and bards, among other things (Hale 1998; Charry 2000; Hoffman 2000). This dissertation depicts jalis who play the balafon, the kora, and the guitar in New York. Up to date, there is almost no literature on the topic. The author applies Gregory Bateson?s notion of cultural ?ethos,? construed as schismogenic balances of tension and resolution, to both musical and non-musical social aspects of culture (Bateson 1972). Meter and rhythm create tensions and resolutions in people?s minds and bodies, giving them a common frame of reference. Simultaneously, participation in music exposes our cultural proclivities. This makes it an ideal place to begin the cross-cultural learning process. From the live music scenes, we then explore how music students learn to produce cross-rhythms and looping layered melodies as well as more subtle nuances in ?feeling,? or groove. Students learn how to learn, think, and play the music according to the Manding jali?s perspective. We apply these musical lessons as we become increasingly involved in the culture, at large. This study uses an alternative methodology of a reflective practice (Sch?n 1987) in which the author is the primary participant. She moves from a music student, an organizer of balafon workshops to a friend, a patron, an agent, a marraine, and ultimately, a jatigi in jali society. The analysis is interlaced with antidotes of interpersonal experiences between Manding jalis, the author, and other participants. In conclusion we see how non-Manding and Manding music and culture cross-influence one another as they interrelate in the multi-cultural music scene in New York.

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African Music; Griot


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