Yaya Coulibaly

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Yaya Coulibaly comes from an ancient family of puppeteers with roots in the Bamana kingdom of Segou in Mali. He began his initiation into the magical world of puppet and masquerade figures at the age of ten as an apprentice to his father. Later he studied art at the Bamako National Institute of the Arts, and puppet theatre at the Institute International de la Marionette in France. He formed his own puppet company, Sogolon Puppet Troupe, in 1980 and has since become the leading custodian of the Bambara puppetry tradition, the oldest and richest of Africa’s surviving puppetry traditions. Coulibaly is the custodian of a vast collection of puppets, many of which have come down to him through his family. A selection of this collection is currently (2006) being exhibited at the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town.

Coulibaly has created a new and dynamic puppet theatre that draws from the ancient traditions of puppetry in West Africa. His performances incorporate traditional folk tales and legends and episodes from Mali’s great epics, as well as colonial history and commentary on contemporary life in Mali. The techniques in his performances include hand puppets, rod puppets, marionettes, masks and live music. He has performed widely in Europe and the USA. One of Sogolon's recent works, Tall Horse, is in collaboration with the Handspring Puppet Company and is touring in 2006.

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