Somono Bala of the Upper Niger

Somono Bala of the Upper Niger: River People, Charismatic Bards, and Mischievous Music in a West African Culture
Edited by David C. Conrad, original Maninka text transcribed by Sekou Camara, translated by Sekou Camara and David C. Conrad
Brill 2002

Heroic oral narrative about a culture that derives its livelihood from the waters of the Niger River in Guinea and Mali, with a study of the life and musical discourse of a blacksmith bard.

Laminigbé Bayo (c.1943-1992) was born to a family of Maninka blacksmiths in the village of Jidilan in the Baté region of Upper Guinée. He and his brothers took up their father’s specialty of goldsmithing, but after moving to Kankan, Laminigbé took up music and became famous in Guinea, Mali, and Côte d’Ivoire as a traveling guitarist and storyteller.

The Somono are an ethnic group specializing in fishing and river transport on waterways of the Upper Niger. In Laminigbé’s story, Bala the Somono hero survives French military service, defies colonial administration, becomes chief of canoemen and guardian of treasure, defies monsters of the river, and suffers for the love of a beautiful woman. This is the first ever translation of the Somono narrative into English, with the original Maninka language text included.


Chapter I
“Sòmònò Identity in History and Tradition”
David C. Conrad
Chapter II
“A Blacksmith Bard, a Dying Musical Instrument, and a Hero of the Rivers: The Life and Music of Laminigbé Bayo”
David C. Conrad
Chapter III
“From dan to kamalen ngoni: Musical Transition in Manden”
David C. Conrad
Chapter IV
“The dan: A Disappearing Musical Instrument”
Sekou Camara
Chapter V
“Sòmònò Bala”
Song and narrative by Laminigbé Bayo presented by David C. Conrad and Sekou Camara


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