École De Musique de Kirina

Kirina, Mali

In 2009, Mahamadou Diabaté -brother of Grammy Award-winning Kora player Toumani Diabaté- and a wonderful musician in his own right, approached the Playing For Change Foundation about building a music school in his native country of Mali. Thanks to his help and guidance, PFCF broke ground on its third music school on the African continent this year: l'Ecole de Musique de Kirina (Music School of Kirina). The school is located in the village of Kirina, approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of Mali’s capital city, Bamako.

Kirina is a Griot village without any electricity, where the inhabitants live in humble straw roofed houses made of bricks that have dried in the sun's heat. The Griots play an essential role in Malian culture: they are the keepers of oral history and traditions, passing them on through music and poetry. Kirina has been preserving its unique musical and cultural heritage for more than 700 years and the school helps the people of Kirina preserve and share their  cultural heritage and musical traditions. Beyond the music school, we are also working to improve access to clean drinking water for the community, as well as  developing a musical instrument workshop destined to help to sustain the school financially and create job opportunities in the village.

The school opened its doors in October of 2010, and now offers classes in kora, djembe, balafon, dance, tama (talking drum). Beyond music classes we introduced language classes in French and English and we have recently launched an "evening classes" program where teachers from the public school are coming every week to the music school to give extra lessons in English, French, and Sciences. This new program, destined to help compensate the very low success rate at the public school,  as soon became a great asset for the music school as some kids are coming to attend the classes from other villages of the area. .

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Photos of the school preparing to open

Photos of the school in action

  • 3 of the greatest musicians in Africa come to visit the music school of Kirina

  • The villagers of Kirina build their music school with support from PFCF

  • Un reportage sur le processus de création de notre dernière école de musique à Kirina

  • Esto es un reportaje sobre nuestra última escuela de música en Kirina

  • Baaba Maal performing in Kirina, Mali

  • MUSIC IS THE KEY as students in Mali and Ghana meet each other through the first song recorded around our music schools.

  • More than 200 kids attend free classes in kora, balafon, drums, dance, musical theory, history, English and French.

  • Toumani Diabaté, Habib Koité, and Baaba Maal visit the music school of Kirina, Mali, created by PFCF.

  • Mahamadou and Seydou explain how the music school got started, and the impact of the music school on the community.

  • Meet the Students: Alou



Djembe repair

Allows local craftsmen to replace the head of a djembe (hand drum)

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Provides a locally made n’gony (string instrument), benefiting a child and local craftsman

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Jul 15, 2015

Teacher Spotlight: Seidou Kone

by Shauna Murray

More often than not, when you read about music education, you hear about all the benefits learning music can have on a child: more self-esteem, better collaboration with peers, and increased learning in primary school, to name a few. The benefits of these programs extend beyond the students participating in them, however; the seed of change that is planted in the school grows to include the teachers, their families, and the communities they live in.


For more than 70 generations the Griot inhabitants of this village have been the keepers of African oral tradition. Music is in their blood, and this rich cultural heritage that dates back to the 13th century is alive and well in and the families that make their homes here.

  • Traditional West-African Music Education

    Following the centuries-old Griot traditions, these classes focus on teaching traditional instruments such as Kora, Balafon, Tama, Djembé, and introduce an approach to musical theory. Classes are also given in dance, chant, English and French....… more

  • Djembe

    The djembé is maybe the most popular West African instrument. The djembé is a native percussion instrument in Kirina as its origins are traditionally located between Guinea (50 km south from Kirina) and Bamako ( 50 km north of Kirina).  In the...

    … more

  • French & English

    In addition to the music classes, our mission is to help the kids to prepare for their future in other ways. We decided to introduce language classes at the music school  after an agreement with the teachers of the public school. The idea of those...

    … more

  • Kora

    The kora is a traditional West African instrument made with a large calabash, which is a type of gourdnative to the area.  The kora is the "king" of the instruments in the Griot culture. It traditionally has 21 strings and according to the legend,...

    … more

  • Dance

    Almost every kid in Kirina could hold their own with professional dancers in western countries.  The dance is a natural discipline that every kid learns from his very early age. The dance classes at the school are pure moments of joy and music....

    … more

  • Musical History and Theory

    One of the dreams of Mahamadou Diabaté, director of the music school, is to be able to work with the students to transcribe popular local themes to sheet music. This is in paradox to the oral tradition of the Griots, but it is Diabate's bope that...

    … more

  • Tama

    The Tama or “Talking Drum” is a traditional percussion instrument very popular all over West Africa. It is traditionally a Griot instrument and it is considered one of the oldest percussion instruments in West Africa. The particularity of this...

    … more

  • Dun Dun

    The dun dun is a traditional bass drum very popular in all West Africa that usually accompanies Djembé. 

    The sound of dundun is always present during the dance classes at the music school. Those drums have different sizes and are sometimes...

    … more

  • Ngoni

    The ngoni or "n'goni" is a string instrument originating in West Africa. Its body is made of wood or calabash with dried animal (often goat) skin stretched over it like a drum. This ngoni is called a "djeli ngoni", played by griots to perform at...

    … more

  • Mahamadou Diabaté

    Mahamadou is a Malian musician from a "griot" family that has played music since the 13th Century. He is a very talented, and has studied at the National Institute of Arts in Bamako. In addition to teaching classes in Kirina, he also serves as the school's creative director.

  • Seydou Dembelé

    Seydou is an English teacher and school administrator in Bamako, Mali. He began working with PFCF as a translator and project coordinator during the school's construction. He is now the head administrator of the school in Kirina where he also teaches French and English classes.

  • Oumou Mariko

    Oumou is a singer and a dancer living in Bamako, and has recently been performing and teaching African dance throughout Europe. Her natural joy and energy immediately convinced us that she had to be the chant and dance teacher for the children of Kirina.

  • Karounga Diabaté

    Karounga is the son of Keletigui Diabaté, one of the greatest balafon (traditional African xylophone) players in the country We are pleased to have him as Kirina's balafon teacher. Karounga is also an instrument crafter; he made the 10 balafon used by the students in Kirina.

  • Ladji Diabaté

    Ladji Diabaté is a renowned kora player and teacher in Mali. He is the brother of master kora playerToumani Diabaté. Ladji traveled the world playing the kora and has been living during 8 years in the US as a musician. His patience and calmness made him a perfect kora teacher for our students in Kirina.

  • Seydou Koné

    Seydou Koné is a master djembé player who lives in a village located 14km from Kirina. He assists Mahamadou for the percussion classes and leads the percussion band that plays for each dance class at the school. Twice a week, Seydou takes a 14 km bike ride to come and teach at the school to share his knowledge with our students

  • Mountaga Sissoko

    Mountaga is a master talking drum and n'goni player and is also an incredible instruments hand-crafter. Since october 2010 Mountaga teaches talking drum and n'goni at the Kirina Music school. In september 2012, Mountaga recorded on 'United', a song around the world produced by PFC for the UN 7 Billion Actions Campain.