Mah Kouyaté's "Soumba" lyrics: Bambara or Maninka?

Hi, I’d like to ask if someone can tell if Mah Kouyaté’s song “Soumba” is in maninkakan or bamanankan.

Loving mah kouyate’s music, I want to learn her language.

I know for a fact that she is eastern malinké but I don’t know which language she speaks in her songs.

Thanks a lot,


I think she is speaking in Bambara. She is talking about death and how sad it is to see a young person dying (she lists some people who probably died while they were young).

Here are some rough transcriptions and translations of excerpts:

Saya le be dali bɛɛ ban don dɔ…

Death ends all “dali” someday

Saya jankaro bɛ ile mina, soumba, i bɛ fili i wolodenw ma soumba…

When the sickness of death comes to, Soumba, you misrecognize your own kids

Woyi na le na le nna le na, kuu bɛɛ bɛ laban tuɲa le ma)
Woyi na le na le na le na, saya le bɛ ban…

Oh mum, truth always triumphs.
Oh mum, death ends any relationship…

Maybe I am wrong. However, I would like to know the meaning of the word “soumba” or “Sumba” itself, I don’t know it.


I ni ce, Halem! Thanks for posting.

I am not familiar with Mah Kouyaté as an artist, but I’ve had a listen (the above post from @Kamaradeni was helpful too) and I wouldn’t be able to easily classify it as “Bambara” or “Maninka”.

In fact, I am not sure that it’s a fruitful task. Part of the reason that I often call the language Manding is because there are not always clear boundaries between the varieties. Bamako, in essence, is the meeting point of Maninka and Bambara as “dialects” of Manding, which means that the two flow into one another. That said, singing from many griots, etc., often sounds “more Maninka” (in terms of word choice and grammar) because of both the origins of the people singing, but also because of the codification of a certain style for various songs and repertoires.

On that note, I think it’s worth adding that “Eastern Malinké/Maninka” is not a label that people use to identify themselves; it’s a term that academic linguists use to classify the ways that a particular variety of Maninka that has different grammatical features than some of the varieties spoken to its West.

Hope that’s helpful!

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Very interesting! I have the impression that most griots are Malinké, as I don’t know if the Bambara have/had that much of a griot culture. In any case, the Diabaté and Kouyaté families (or well, mega-families) both date back to the Mali empire.
Then again, the distinction between Bambara and Malinké as ethnic groups seems quite fluid to me (as they often have the same last names etc), unlike for example Bambara and Fulani.

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