Mali is a landlocked country in West Africa. The nation has a long history of migration, dating from the fourth century. Malians traditionally have immigrated to Europe, especially to France, as Mali was formerly claimed as a colony by France and French is still the official language. Emigration to the United States is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating from the 1990s, and attributable to the slump of the European economy and changes to US immigration policy. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) enabled thousands of Africans living in the United States to become permanent residents. The Diversity Visa Program enacted in 1990 allowed 50,000 African visa lottery winners to come to the United States.
Like other recent waves of African immigrants in the United States, Malians are concentrated in a few metropolitan areas, principally New York City, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Chicago and Baltimore. According to the Recensement Administratif à Caractère Electoral (RACE), there were 3,590 Malians living in the United States in 2000. The number is likely to be larger today, especially in the light of recent political developments in Mali. The country has undergone a rebellion in the north, a military coup and a refugee crisis.
There are deep links between West African and Black American vocal music, dating back to the slave trade era, such as styles of traditional work songs to coordinate physical labor. Malian American vocal music is usually accompanied by traditional instruments such as the balaphon (a forerunner of the xylophone) and kora (a 21-string gourd harp), just as it is in Mali. Malian song is performed at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City and beyond. The songs are seen to help bring together the community and remind its members where they came from. Traditional styles of Malian singing are kept alive in immigrant communities by performers who continue to sing songs stemming from ancient traditions in their homeland. These songs also express Malian history, as some of these vocalists are trained djelis (griots). Djelis are charged with passing down the traditional historial epics and praise songs of their community, some dating back many centuries. Malian popular songs, both in Mali and the Unites States, incorporate rock and pop elements.
There are many well-known Malian singers who tour extensively in the United States, or that have taken up more-or-less full-time residency in the country, such as Adjaratou "Tapani" Demba and Makane Kouyaté. In recent years Malian performers fled their homeland in droves as newly influential followers of an ultraconservative brand of Islamic law, in this moderate Muslim country, have violently banned most artists. This presentation includes a video recording featuring the Malian American dgeli, balaphon player, and singer Balla Kouyaté and the band World Vision, featuring singer Tapani Demba, performing in a concert at the Library of Congress in 2010.