Revenge of the Spoken Word?: Writing, Performance, and New Media in Urban West Africa


This paper examines the impact of digital media on the relationship between writing, performance, and textuality from the perspective of literate verbal artists in Mali. It considers why some highly educated verbal artists in urban Africa self-identify as writers despite the oralizing properties of new media, and despite the fact that their own works circulate entirely through performance. The motivating factors are identified as a desire to present themselves as composers rather than as performers of texts, and to differentiate their work from that of minimally educated performers of texts associated with traditional orality.



Awa Dembélé Macalou reading a story to children at the Marché de Missra in Bamako.

Photo: Moradewun Adejunmobi.

Awa Dembélé Macalou singing a refrain from the story of Nayé as she recited the story in French.

Audio recording: Moradewun Adejunmobi.

Students at Lycée Manssa Maka Diabaté learning how to write slam poetry in March 2009. Their teachers are BoubacHaman and Azizsiten’k.

Photo: Moradewun Adejunmobi.

Table of Contents

mobile close