We had the opportunity to speak with a Diabate himself, son of Grammy-award winning kora musician Mamadou Diabate. Here we had the opportunity to hear first hand, the definition a Djeli as told to him by his father. Growing up when DJ would ask his father "who are we," he would respond:
"I am a Djeli. I was born into a Djeli family and learned the way of the Djeli from my grandfather. I didn't copy nobody"
This response would later be one of extreme importance to DJ as it shows the immeasurable value Griots place on lineage. In order to become an expert Djeli, you must begin playing instruments from an early age and learn of your heritage from your elders. Without these elders, new generations of Djeli would seek to exist. This fact is one that constantly reminds DJ of the importance of family in his life.
Like heritage is important to Djeli families, Djeli families are important to West African culture. As said by Mamadou Daibate:
"A Djeli becomes part of society with his music and his way of life"
The quote is the embodiment of the cultural significance of Djeli. They are essential to the preservation of West African heritage and way of life. Even today outside of West Africa, we can see influences of the Djeli in Gospel music and Negro rituals, created when West Africans were brought to the United States. This is just an example of how far the reach of the Djeli has spread.
So, finally, we asked DJ, what does it mean to be a Djeli?
To that he said:
"To have a rich West African history in which you take pride in to share with others."