Malian farmer, hunter, and puppeteer, also known as Tiori Blé, “Tiori the Red”. A bright child, Tiory Diarra discovered the art of puppetry at the age of twelve and is a multi-talented artist: sculptor, dancer, musician and puppeteer. His characters – many inspired by mythology and history (particularly colonial history) – originate from core Bamana culture.
During difficult times and the Sahel droughts in 1970 and 1983, Tiory Diarra worked odd jobs and observed mask ceremonies in the Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Beginning in 1985, he travelled village to village throughout his native area, invited by age-group associations to participate in festivals before the rainy season. His aim was to pass to young people cultural traditions: legends, dance steps, songs of heroic characters and animals that have since disappeared.
Whether in the bush or on stage, Diarra performs two types of shows: one with small puppets performed in a booth and another with large masked puppets. Performances are accompanied by two singers and musical ensemble – consisting of drums, balafon (a large type of xylophone), ngoni (string instrument), rattles and calabash. The small puppet characters (ten or twelve per show) are wooden rod puppets representing archetypal characters, or amazing things (like an aeroplane or devil). The puppets are manipulated by the master puppeteer and his apprentice, hidden behind a rectangular booth on the ground which is covered with printed fabric or bogolan cloth. The rhythmical movements of the puppets are accompanied by the drums. The spectators, seated in a circle, clap their hands and sometimes sing along. Two birds, cockerel and the calao representing the journey and the soul of the puppets, open and close the hour-long show.
The large masked puppet performances are presented at night (to hide the identity of the mask wearer and add mystery to the show). Ten figures make their dancing entrance one by one. The event is lit by bonfires and can last two hours or an entire night. An enthused spectator will join a character, dance a few steps, and offer water, money, fabric or a cola nut to the performer.
Between 1985 and 1992 Tiory Diarra performed in Mali, Senegal, Niger and France. In May 1992, he directed a film on the theme of “puppets and the environment” for the Union Internationale de la Conservation de la Nature (UICN; International Union for the Conservation of Nature). He leads educational workshops in the schools of the city of Djenné (Mali). After 1992, Tiory Diarra entered a period of retirement that was attributed to sorcery.