On May 17, 1967, the American writer Alex Haley went to Juffure, a village in The Gambia on what was once the western fringe of the Mali empire. There he met a griot, or jali, who recounted a story about Haley's roots in Africa. Haley was trying to reconstruct his past, an African heritage which had been nearly erased by the slave trade and the experience of his African-American ancestors as slaves. Haley used some of this information to write Roots, which appeared in 1976 and led to an explosion of interest in geneology in the United States and other parts of the world. The television version of the story drew the largest single audience in the history of American television. Roots II, a sequel showed how Haley went about the research for the book, and many viewers saw a Mandinka jali, or griot, for the first time, the late Alhaji Bai Konte, playing the role of the man who told Haley the story about Kunta Kinte.
Roots introduced griots to the world outside of West Africa and generated an enormous amount of interest in their profession. Griots and Griottes is the first comprehensive portrait of the world of this profession, starting with their discovery by the outside world in 1352 by a North African traveler, Ibn Battuta, up to the time of Alex Haley and the present. Griots in their multiple roles and functions are unique to Africa. They play many roles in society -- geneologist, historian, spokesperson, diplomat, musician, teacher, warrior, praise singer, master of ceremonies, and advisor. Griots and Griottes, based on over thirty years of research and travel in Africa, tells the story of these remarkable wordsmiths and performers.