Under the mango trees in Kirina, a village about one hour outside Bamako, a group of friends and musicians have come together to teach the children of their village how to preserve their culture, and that through education, a successful future can be found beyond the hazards of the local gold mines.

Teacher of Dance, Oumou Diallo demonstrates for students at Kirina music school

Teacher of Dance, Oumou Diallo demonstrates for students at Kirina music school

“You know I’m Griot. I am the 71st generation of Diabaté in my family of this village. We’ve learned the Kora and how to play the Kora from father to son, every generation since the 13th century” – Mahamadou Diabaté, musician and founder of the Kirina music school

Mahamadou Diabaté is a musician and founder of the Kirina music school where making instruments like the Kora from wood and calabash is an art form Diabaté said he hopes to pass on to his students. While the school itself is only about 6 years old, its presence in the village has brought about changes many say were centuries over due.

“When we left Bamako how many high schools did you see? How many hospitals did you see? How many markets?” asked Diabaté. The answer was zero, but he explained, that was all changing thanks in part to the work he and his team at the Kirina Music School are doing in their community.

Instructors put together lesson plans before classes at the Kirina Music School in Kirina, Mali.

Instructors put together lesson plans before classes at the Kirina Music School in Kirina, Mali.

When others in the community said they first heard the school would be financed by the Playing for Change Foundation, many got on board to help Diabaté and the school with its goals of promoting education and their unique cultural heritage. Funds from the foundation helped them to create awareness and attract interest from foreign celebrities like Gary Dourdon, who helped raise enough money to bring the village its first potable water well and maternal health facility.

While these initiatives are an improvement, some locals still say their village lacks critical infrastructure like high schools and hospitals. Head administrator and a professor at the Kirina Music School, Seydou Dembele said he worries many from the village feel the only way to improve their financial situation is to drop out of school and risk their lives in the local gold mines.

Djembe lesson at Kirina Music School. Kirina, Mali

Djembe lesson at Kirina Music School. Kirina, Mali

“Here in Kirina, the mining situation is very particular because people here abandon traditional schooling to go work in the mines, just to have money. There are some young people who want to go but there are even parents that want their child to go to the mines because they see the influence. If a neighbor was sent or went to the mines and they are profiting from it, then their interest goes there too. But what people don’t know is there are many more sicknesses than fortune that comes from these mines.” – Seydou Dembele, Head Administrator, Kirina Music School

When the school first opened with its offer of free music education to young people in the village, it welcomed more than 200 students. But today, that number is down.

“162 students are still here and they are not always regular. We’re in a village, there are parents who don’t understand the point of this school. They just don’t get the interest in having their kids come here” said Dembele.

For the students who do continue to stick around, they said they are encouraged by the school’s staff to continue their studies at the local public middle school before coming for their music lessons. Teachers at the Kirina Music School have even adjusted their schedules based on the local public school hours to make class times even more accessible for students.

Balafon lessons at Kirina Music School, Kirina, Mali

Balafon lessons at Kirina Music School, Kirina, Mali

The staff at Kirina Music School said they will continue to urge their students and parents in their community to take part in the future education of their town. They said without a program like theirs, they fear they may risk parts of their cultural disappearing forever.

“Our mission is to give a musical education to these children, but also to immortalize our local culture. Because as you see, we only have traditional Malian instruments. We don’t want our culture to die. Without this school, there are a lot of instruments that risk disappearing.” – Seydou Dembele