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Griot (1910) with a Ngoni type plucked lute

Griot (French pronunciation ɡʀiˈo ) describes in parts of West Africa a professional singer , poet and instrumentalist who recites epic texts in a certain form of song as a prize singer, storyteller, teacher or purely for entertainment. Griots help to ensure that traditional knowledge is passed on through oral tradition .


The origin of the word is not certain. Griot appears as Guiriot in a French-language travelogue published in 1637 by the Capuchin monk Alexis de Saint-Lô († 1659), who came from Normandy. Since the area had already been Islamized since the empires of Gana and Mali and Arabic script and language were introduced via the Maghreb as the language of cult and science, the origin of the language here could obviously be mentioned for the first time in a European language and later in the Latin phonetic alphabet of the later colonial language French written word griot from arabic القَارِئُ, DMG al-qāri'u , "reciter", "lecturer", also "Koran reciter", in Maghrebian pronunciation, namely el-girió , must be specified . This corresponds to the expressions gaulo (from Arabic القَولُ, DMG al-qaulu , "the word", "what was said") or also Guewel / Gewel (from Arabic قَوَّالٌ, DMG qawwāl , "the one who pronounces the word") from the same region. These are terms that are used throughout the Muslim world for the corresponding musical practices.

This word is also associated with the Portuguese verb gritar , “to scream”, because griots present their speech in a loud voice. However, the first Portuguese did not appear on the West African coast until the 15th century.

Griots as a separate social class is available at Black African and Berber ethnic groups in numerous regional linguistic terms mean the hereditary title: In the Mande languages they are called Jeli (Djeli) or Jali ( Pl. Jalolu on) Maninka also Jeli , on Soninke Gesere , Diare , with the Tukulor Gaulo, Bambado and with the Bidhan in Mauritania Iggīw . They are also called by the Wolof Guewel , by the Fulbe Mado or Gawlo and by the Hausa Moroci .


The male griots and their female counterparts, the griottes , are the keepers of the history , oral literature, and music of their peoples. They sing prize songs in praise of their client, tell stories with historical, mythological or satirical content and entertain or teach. They accompany each other on instruments such as the kora bridge harp , the ngoni inland spit lute or the single-stringed fiddle goge (also known as gondze ). Other griots play balafon or dance, the Moroccan Hausa sing kalangu to the little changeable rhythm of the drum . Many traditional ceremonies require the presence of griots.

The profession, which resembles medieval troubadours , is predominantly reserved for men who are members of certain clans. The most famous Griot family is the Jobarteh clan (in French spelling Diabaté ). Other griot clans known beyond Africa are the Kanté , the Koité , the Kouyaté and the Cissokho (also spelled Sissoko ). Members of griot families often marry one another and thus form a solid caste.

Their home is the settlement area of ​​the Mandinke peoples, i.e. today's states of Mali , Gambia , Guinea and Senegal . In these West African countries , the griot tradition is still alive today. Many current musicians, stage actors, TV and radio presenters in Senegal come from well-known griot families.

In the tent camps of the Moors in southern Mauritania , wandering griot families appear whose singers are called Iggāwen (m. Sg. Iggīw ) and who accompany each other on the lute tidinit . The women (f. Pl. Tiggīwāten , also Tiggāwāten , Sg. Tiggīwīt ) play the harp ardin while singing .

In Senegal, griot women cultivate a special form of spoken poetry called taasu , which is only accompanied by the tumbler drum sabar and the hourglass drum tama . The sentences are not sung, but performed in an emphatic, staccato-like style, often as a call and response with a female choir. The best-known taasu lecturer ( taasukat ) of the 1980s and 1990s was Aby Ngana Diop.

List of griot singers

Griot from Niger with a two-stringed long-necked
spit lute gurumi

Epic singers in other cultures

Traveling singers, who normally do not belong to a particular caste like the griots, exist in numerous cultures around the world. Mbomovet , who plays the mvet bridge harp in Cameroon and Gabon , has no particular social background and is not permanently employed. Distant parallels in the European past can be found in the figure of the trobador . Arab storytellers who entertain their audiences in teahouses also maintain an epic tradition. In much of northern Asia, folk song singers, called Aşık in Turkey , spread mythical stories and current affairs, in Iran and India in the form of ghazeles .


  • Hauke ​​Dorsch: Global Griots. Performance in the African diaspora. Lit Verlag, Münster 2006, ISBN 3-8258-8977-7 ( Contributions to Africa Research 23), (Simultaneously: Hamburg; Univ., Diss., 2002).
  • Barbara G. Hoffman: Griots at war. Conflict, conciliation, and caste in Mande. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN et al. 2001, ISBN 0-253-33805-0 .
  • Jali Kunda. The griots of West Africa and the rest of the world. Ellipsis Arts, Roslyn NY 1996 (book and CD set).

Web links

Commons : Griots  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Griot  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Alexis de Saint-Lô: Relation de voyage au Cap-Vert. Paris, 1637, p. 87
  2. ^ H. Wehr: Dictionary for the Arabic written language of the present , Wiesbaden 1968, p. 672.
  3. ^ Jürgen Elsner: North Africa. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present . Sachteil 9, 1998, col. 225
  4. Thomas A. Hale, p. 251
  5. ^ Wolfgang Creyaufmüller: Nomad culture in the Western Sahara. The material culture of the Moors, their handicraft techniques and basic ornamental structures. Burgfried-Verlag, Hallein (Austria) 1983, ISBN 3-85388-011-8 , pp. 60, 736.
  6. Taasu (tassou) Women Ritual poets of Senegal. ethnolyrical, Youtube Video, (0:56), June 28, 2011, last accessed June 13, 2016.