Lucy Durán and Geoff Baker, 9 May 2013

Title of the Talk: Growing into Music

When? Thursday 9 May 2013 (17:00-18:30)

Where? The Barn at St John’s College (Kendrew Quad)

Speaker: Dr Lucy Durán (Lecturer in African Music, SOAS) and Dr Geoff Baker (Reader in Musicology and Ethnomusicology, Royal Holloway – University of London)

Abstract: Growing into Music, a film-based research project funded by a major grant from the AHRC’s ‘Beyond Text’, is a collaboration between SOAS, University of London (Lucy Durán: Principal Investigator, and Mali specialist; Nicolas Magriel – Research Assistant, India specialist); Royal Holloway, University of London (Geoffrey Baker: Co-Investigator, Venezuela and Cuba); and Sanubar Baghirova, (Azerbaijan Academy of Sciences); with additional contributions from Michele Banal (PhD student, SOAS).


The project explores how children in specialist oral traditions from different parts of the world acquire musical skills and knowledge. It is a celebration of childhood musicality, and a window on the changing nature of oral cultures in the 21st century.

This film follows the children of four celebrated jeli (griot) families in Bamako as they face the challenges of learning the ancient art of the griot in the 21st century. Just turned twelve, Rokia Kouyaté is determined to learn the lyrical style of her famous grandfather Kasse Mady Diabaté, and performs at noisy wedding parties, and for a popular television competition. Precocious Thierre Diarra at the age of four is already on the path to becoming a virtuoso on the jembe, following in the footsteps of his father Adama. Ten year-old Salif Diabaté, nephew of kora master, Toumani Diabaté, struggles to fit kora lessons into his busy school schedule, but begins to improve dramatically over a school holiday. And seven year-old Saran Kouyaté and her younger sister, the five year-old Ami, are taught songs by their grandmother, the charismatic Bako Dagnon, considered one of the great master-singers of Mali, whose wisdom is rooted in the rural traditions of her remote village in the northwest of the country.

Kevin PA-2

The film reflects the challenges that griots in Mali face in the 21st century – from rural exodus, globalisation, and the lack of government support for music, among other things – but it also highlights the determination of both elders and children to celebrate their art and keep it alive.


Shot on location between 2009-12, the project has produced a series of documentary films that show children learning and performing within some of the world’s most celebrated oral traditions:

– Hindustani classical music and dance in north India;

– folk music of the Langa and Manganiyar communities in Rajasthan;

– Mande and Bobo griot (hereditary professional) music of Mali and Guinea;

– mugham and ashiq traditions of Azerbaijan;

– Afrocuban music and dance in Cuba;

– música llanera in Venezuela.

Looking across these very different musical cultures, the project explores the contrasting ways that musicianship continues to be orally transmitted between generations in the 21st century. Sometimes this process takes place within families, involving varying kinds of pedagogy, ranging from one-to-one formal lessons to learning within peer groups of children, via play, osmosis, imitation and performance. However, oral traditions are increasingly being taught within music schools, for example in Azerbaijan, Cuba and Venezuela.


The AHRC Beyond Text follow-on project, ‘Mali-Cuba: music across generations’, in 2012 took four of the featured Malian children to Cuba, to share experiences and explore common musical ground with their Cuban counterparts, through workshops and concerts in Havana and Matanzas.

The project will be launched on June 7, 2013, at SOAS London University, with talks and screenings of films by the research team.

During the Seminar, Lucy Durán and Geoff Baker will talk about their work, and present a preview screening of two Growing into Music films they have directed. A short film introducing the project can be watched here.

All the films may be viewed in HD at

Speakers Biographies: Lucy Durán (PhD SOAS, BMus MMus King’s College, London) is Senior Lecturer in African music at SOAS. Her main interests are West African music and culture, and her principal field of research is Mande music, which she has been researching on location in Mali, Gambia and Senegal since 1977, with special reference to the jelis (‘griots’), the kora, and women singers. Her research project, ‘Growing into Music in Mali’ resulted in two in-depth films that document the musical progress of children in leading Mande jeli (griot) families in both rural and urban environments in southern Mali and upper Guinea. They are available for viewing onlineand include unique footage of children learning music in leading griot families, shot by Durán on location in Mali and Guinea between 2009-12. Durán has a long professional involvement with the music industry, working as music producer, journalist and broadcaster. She was the regular presenter of BBC Radio 3’s flagship world music programme World Routes for the duration of its lifetime on air, 2000-2013. She has produced more sixteen albums, including Segu blue and I speak fula by Malian ngoni player Bassekou Kouyaté (nominated for a Grammy Award in 2010), Kassi Kasse by Kase Mady Diabaté (nominated for a Grammy Award in 2004), and six albums by Grammy award-winning kora player Toumani Diabaté, including the 2014 release, Toumani & Sidiki (World Circuit, 2014) – nominated for a Grammy Award, 2015. She is also project advisor to the Aga Khan Music Initiative (Aga Khan Trust for Culture), for their work on music in Mali.

Geoff Baker is Director of the Institute of Musical Research and Reader in Musicology and Ethnomusicology. He joined the music department as a Lecturer in 2005, having previously served here as a Leverhulme Research Fellow. He studied modern languages at Oxford University and early music performance at the Utrecht Conservatorium and the Royal Academy of Music. Having gained experience as a performer of Renaissance and Baroque music, he went on to complete a PhD at Royal Holloway under the supervision of Dr Tess Knighton. He specialises in music in Latin America, and he has published extensively on colonial Peru. His book Imposing Harmony: Music and Society in Colonial Cuzco (Duke University Press, 2008) won the American Musicological Society’s Robert Stevenson Award in 2010. He co-edited Music and Urban Society in Colonial Latin America (Cambridge University Press, 2011) with Tess Knighton, and he has contributed essays to several journals and collected volumes. Geoff also works on Latin American popular music, and he has a particular interest in contemporary urban music, above all in Cuba. He has published a number of essays on rap and reggaetón in Havana, and his book Buena Vista in the Club: Rap, Reggaetón, and Revolution in Havana (Duke University Press, 2011) was published in the series Refiguring American Music. More recently, his research focused on childhood musical learning and music education in Cuba and Venezuela. He was co-investigator on the three-year project “Growing into Music,” funded through the AHRC’s Beyond Text scheme, and made a series of documentaries and short films about young musicians in Cuba and Venezuela. This project culminated in festivals in Bamako (Mali) and Havana in early 2012.

Convenor: Jason Stanyek (Associate Professor; Fellow and Tutor, St. John’s College)


Event hosted as part of the Seminar in Ethnomusicology and Sound Studies Series, based at St John’s College, University of Oxford.

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