Item Details

Valuing Tradition: Mali’s Jeliw, European Publishers and Copyright

Issue: Vol 4 No. 1 (2017)

Journal: Journal of World Popular Music

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/jwpm.31661


The issue of how copyright works for the musical traditions of Africa has been steadily growing in importance since the 1990s, pushed to the fore by the increasing visibility of African artists in the world music market, the neoliberalisation of African economies that is pushing  intellectual property (IP) issues into the centre of state creative industry policies, the ubiquity of illegal forms of reproduction, physical and increasingly digital, and the processes by which immaterial goods and cultural traditions are becoming reimagined as commodities. Recent scholarly discussions of this issue moves the debate significantly beyond the simple notion of copyright as a Eurocentric imposition on vulnerable African cultural heritage and instead considers how IP issues are addressed differentially in specific local contexts across sub-Saharan Africa. This article examines these issues in relation to how Mali’s Mande griots (jeliw) work with European publishers. Based on a series of sixteen interviews with jeli musicians and European publishers and others in the world music industry, its main finding is that while it is necessary to reconsider what we mean by composition in relation to Mali’s jeliw and their musical practice, copyright can and is being adapted by publishers working with traditional musicians to provide much needed revenue to jeli composers and plays a role in sustaining a vital, but vulnerable, tradition.

Author: Caspar Melville

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