In a lot of traditional Mande songs, you may hear ‘mamaya’ and I always wondered what it meant. I even thought it could have had a French origin because if its sound and the fact that it doesn’t really have any root words that I know of in it. In this interview, the well known griote Ami Koita explains that it is 'longwɛ, or a griot style event that usually occurs on special nights.
Let me know if there is anything more you may know about this! Thanks
I’m not familiar with the specific word mamaya as part of Manding songs, but I see that Ami Koita has a song called “Mamaya”. That title seems to be the reason that the journalist asks her what mamaya’s meaning is in the interview.
She doesn’t seem to comment on the literal meaning of the word. Instead, I think she comments on it as a “proper noun” or name for a specific kind of dance (or what she calls a “tulonkɛ”; that is, a form of play, celebration or game) led by griots.
I think that this interpretation is supported by the fact that she says “Mamaya, mɔgɔ caman bɛ à da” using the verb da which is used for songs (cf. ka dɔnkili da), etc.
I did some further research and found this page dedicated to “Mamaya” as a percussion rhythm, which states the following:
The old Mandingo-dance Mamaya (Mamayah) was very popular in Guinea during the 1940 – 1960 period. Traditionally it was a very stately dance, that was performed in a club or a group where one was part of. Dressed in gouba’s and embroided shirts, male and female dancers could express their beauty, while dancing in two circles (men in outer circle, women in inner circle). Dance-steps were made in a majestic way and a handkerchief or decorated stick was used as an attribute. The rhythm started with the singing of a Griot and/or music made with the Balafon, Bolon or Tama. Mamaya is traditionally without an echauffement.
A similar reference is available on this page, which cites the 1991 book “Rhythmen der Malinke” (‘Rhythms of the Maninka’) by Famoudou Konate. It describes Mamaya as follows:
Traditionnellement mamaya […] est une danse très lente, qui peut être organisée spontanément. A cet effet les femmes et les hommes se placent sur une ligne et dansent toujours sur les mêmes pas. A l’origine il n’y avait pour ce rythme aucun échauffement. Aujourd’hui ces rythmes sont aussi joués lors des mariages et des fêtes semblables, mais à un tempo plus rapide.
Since it seems to be a proper name, I won’t venture to propose a potential etymology or literal meaning