10 Essential Albums of Malian Music

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In the world music scene, there are few countries that can match the musical output — in terms of both quality and quantity — of Mali. With its rich history, cultural variety, large area (nearly twice the size of Texas), and financial and practical support of the arts both by the central government (a relatively stable one until it fell in spring of 2012) and the population at large, it’s no wonder that Mali is a musical leader both in Africa and internationally.

If your music collection is sadly lacking in Malian music, here are some essential albums to get you started.


Toumani Diabate, winner of Best Traditional World Music Album for ‘In the Heart of the Moon’.
Michael Caulfield Archive/WireImage/Getty Images

Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate took home a Grammy Award in 2006 for this stunning acoustic album, featuring primarily just Toure’s guitar and Diabate’s kora, blending Songhai and Bambara musical traditions into something both ancient and quietly modern.


This hip and upbeat CD by Afropop stars Amadou et Mariam was produced by genre-busting global superstar Manu Chao, and it shows. Malian in essence but assuredly international in nature, Dimanche a Bamako is a vanguard of modern global music.

Tinariwen – ‘Aman Iman: Water is Life’


A good portion of the country of Mali falls in the Sahara Desert, home of the nomadic Tuareg people, a Berber people who are neither fully accepted as citizens of any African country, nor do they have independence. The latter was promised to them at one point by Moammar Gadhafi, and many Tuareg youth joined up in his forces. The members of Tinariwen were among those, and they met each other in Gadhafi’s training camps. They formed a band, pioneered the genre of desert blues, and the rest is history. Their CDs are consistently solid, with this 2007 offering being a personal favorite.

Rokia Traore was born in a town called Kolokani, in Southwest Mali, but as the daughter of a diplomat, traveled throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, taking in influences everywhere she went. Though her music is influenced by that of her people, the Bambara, and her band performs with traditional instrumentation, she writes her own songs which deal with the struggles of modern Africans, both internal and external. One of my favorite live performers in the world, Traore is also a remarkable recording artist, and the stunning Bowmboi is one of her best CDs.

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