Palgrave Studies in
Literary Anthropology

Jeliya at the Crossroads

Learning African Wisdom through an Embodied Practice

Brief Synopsis

This book describes the remarkable culture of jeliya, a musical and verbal art from the Mande region of West Africa. Using an embodied practice as her methodology, the author reveals how she and her music teachers live "in between" local and global cultures. her journey spans 20 years of fieldwork presented through personal and intimate stories, first as a student of the balafon instrument, then as a patron of the music. Tensions build in both the music and in social relations that require resolutions, underscoring the differences between two world views. Through balafon lessons, the author embodies values such as patience, courage, and generosity, resulting in a transformative practice that leads her to better understand her position vis-à-vis that of her jeli teachers. Meanwhile, jeliya itself, despite having been transmitted from teacher to student for 800 years, is currently in peril. Jelis cite modern globalized culture and people like the author herself as both a source of the problem as well as the potential solution. 

Praise for Jeliya at the Crossroads

"Lisa Feder's decades long study of Manding jelis plying their musical art and wisdom traces their struggle to navigate between cultures. This is an example of how ethnography ought to be--a narrative of how becoming deeply entwined changes everyone involved. Feder fearlessly examines her own in-betweenness, grappling with vestigial traces of anthropology's unwitting colonial past. This engagingly writeen book overflows with mutual love and respect. A potent read."

Steven Pond, author of Head Hunters: The making of Jazz's First Platinum Album 

"In a stunning achievement of literary ethnography, Lisa Feder guides us into the world of music, the sonorities of which reveal the cultural centrality of music in an ever-changing West African social life. Jeliya at the Crossroads is a book with soul that will be read and debated for many years to come."

Paul Stoller, author of Yaya's Story, the Quest for Well-Being in the World (2014) 

"In this absorbing and readable ethnography, memoir spanning the Gambia, Guinea, Paris, new York City, and beyond, Feder gives us a 21st century perspective on an alluring subject: West African Mande music culture. Candidly exploring issues of diaspora, gender, apprenticeship and patronage, morality and character, privilege and status, Feder enhances the literature of West African music. Required reading for anyone who wishes to learn Mande griot (jeli) music."

Banning Eyre, Senior Producer for Afropop Worldwide. 

"Ethnographic accounts of first contact and subsequent participant-observation typically focus on cultural institutions such as language, marriage, and kinship of the Other; Lisa Feder offers a refreshing auto-ethnography of her lengthy experience learning about mande people and culture through their music in Guinea, The Gambia, New York City, and Paris." 

Barbara Hoffman, Professor and Director of Anthropology, Cleveland State University.