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Geography & Topography

Capital: Bamako

Population: 14.5 million people

Area: 1,240,192 km2

Language: Official Language is French however vernacular language is Bambara.

Religion: Islam (90%), Christian (5%), Indegenous/Animist Beliefs (5%)

Currency: West African Franc



Mali is a landlocked country in Western Africa. The nation is bordered by Algeria (to the north), Niger (to the east), Burkina Faso & Cote d’Ivoire (to the south), Guinea (to the south-west) and Senegal & Mauritania (to the west). Mali is the world’s 24th largest country and has a total landmass that is comparable in size to that of South Africa. The Sahara Desert covers a significant portion of Northern Mali whilst the southern region of the country is home to the Niger and Senegal rivers. As a result of these natural geographic landmarks, the country’s climate differs quite significantly depending on the region. For example, Northern Mali is arid, hot and dry whilst Southern Mali has a tropical climate. The country’s economy relies mostly on agriculture and fishing. The population of Mali is mostly rural with 68% of the entire population living in non-urban areas (as of 2002). The southern part of the country, Bamako in particular, is the most densely populated with more than 90% of the country’s population residing in this one area. Whilst the official language of Mali is French, there are over 40 African dialects spoken throughout the country making it one of the more linguistically diverse African countries. The culture of Mali is derived from its multi-ethnic population as well as the histories of its former colonial masters. This has resulted in a culture that is particularly heterogeneous and differentiated.

Performing Arts


Malian’s diversity in music emphasizes its cultural diversity. As a result, different styles of music are ‘Hunters music’, ‘Wassolou music’ and’ Griot music’. Traditional melodies are kept alive and transferred through various artists who play the music of their ancestors such as Diaby Doua and Mamadou Diabate.  Malian Music is also famous worldwide thanks to a considerable amount of international celebrities such as ‘Amadou and Mariam Bagayogo, known as the blind couple and Ali Farka Toure who has been nominated for 2 grammy awards.



The most recognizable instruments in traditional Malian music are:


The most recognizable Malian instrument is the Kora. It is a harp-like instrument which contains 21 strings and is used extensively throughout the Western parts of Africa. The sound made by a Kora resembles a harp or a flamenco guitar quite closely especially when it is played in the traditional style. The instrument is built from a calabash which is a gourd-like vegetable. The calabash is covered with dried cow-skin in order to make it more sturdy and resistant to the elements. Traditionally Kora players have originated from families who are historians or storytellers. The instrument is strongly associated with oral traditions of Mali and is used to accompany songs or poems which have historical significance. The Kora is believed to have originated in the region today known as Guinea- Bissau approximately around 1796.




The Balafon is a percussion idiophone predominantly used in West Africa. It is part of the idiophone family of various tuned percussion instruments. The Balafon is played by striking the keys of the instrument which have been tuned according to different notes with padded sticks. The instrument traces its origins back to the 12th century and is believed to have developed out of various South African and South American instruments. The Balafon is normally capable of producing 18-21 different notes though some are built to produce fewer notes. Balafon keys are made from a particular type of wood- bene wood- which has been slowly dried over a low flame. The pieces of wood are then tuned by shaving portions off the underside of the keys. Shaving the middle part will flatten a key and shaving the end will sharpen it.




The term ‘Dunun’ is used to refer to any type of generic West African bass drumming instrument. A dunun is traditionally a cylindrical drum with rawhide skin covering both ends. The drum is played with a stick and is often played horizontally, either placed on the ground or suspended from the player’s shoulder via a shoulder strap. A style of playing that is particularly popular in Mali involves playing the drum with the right hand and occasionally playing a bell which has been attached on top of the drum with the left hand. There are three different sizes of dunun commonly played in Mali. The dundunba is the largest dunun with the lowest pitch. The sangban is the medium sized drum with a higher pitch and the kenkeni is the smallest dunun with the higest pitch. Dunun is always played in an ensemble with one or more varieties of other African drums.



Some interesting facts:

  • Mali’s motto is “Un peuple, un but, une foi” which translates into “One People, One Goal, One Faith”
  • The nation today known as Mali was once part of three seperate West African empires
  • Mali’s key natural resources include gold, salt, livestock & uranium

Malian Community in Australia:

More information on the Malian community: