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Yacouba Magassouba is a director, puppeteer, artistic director of the Nama Company  in Bamako in Mali, a mix of puppets that incorporates dance and mask accompanied by traditional rhythms, songs and percussion.

He was introduced and trained in the art of marionette by his grandfather and then by his uncle, the Master Puppeteer Yaya Coulibaly.

His work has taken him on tour all over the world: Burkina Faso, Spain, Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Martinique, Ivory Coast, Benin, African Republic, Senegal, Niger, Congo, Guinea.

President of the Art, Marionette, Musique, Clowns et Danse dans nos rues association, Director of the Festival Rendez-Vous Chez Nous à Bamako, the first street art festival in Mali, President of Unima Mali.

One of its main commitments is to train the younger generations in the art of marionette: more than a dozen courses have been organized in recent years.

His shows combine entertainment with public awareness of important social issues such as social cohesion, school attendance or violence against women.

In 2023, the show For the defense of the Niger River will debut, in which the themes of environmental protection of Niger's waters will be staged in a path along the banks of the river in Bamako.


I am originally from Danga, cercle de Kangaba, Koulikoro region. 

My childhood memory is the village festival: it is a traditional annual festival, we children were always there, there was the Nama mask, there were puppets, and this gave me the desire; since I was very little, I felt like a puppeteer.

I did little things to amaze people and during the party I was given a few minutes to show what I had created.
To become a puppeteer, traditionally, you have to be old enough to be initiated.
I was started by my grandfather, Bamba Magassouba, but in modern puppets, it is Yaya Coulibaly who trained me in this modern art that opens up to the whole world.
I stayed with him, with the family, for fifteen years.
I dropped out of school to be with him, and in 2002 he enrolled me in his Company for my first international trip, to Spain for the Titirimundi Festival, but before traveling internationally, I had already done many festivals all over Mali.
I didn't choose to go to him because of the puppets.
The fact is that Yaya is my mother's younger brother, I can also say, as my mother told me, that I was born in Yaya's family, he saw me grow up, he also saw that I was interested in the art of puppets in the village, making puppet faces with cans.
With him I learned to animate the puppets: this is not difficult for me, but the assembly of the puppets, that is very difficult, you have to be a good sculptor, you have to be very ambitious to do it.
I learned to manipulate, I learned to assemble puppets.
Before sculpting the puppets, we look for history.
I look for traditional Malian tales and create the heads that go into the show: before creating the puppets, there is the story.
We do not create by chance.

From my uncle it is typically traditional, when I wanted to create my Company, through the trips I made with Yaya, I saw different types of puppets in different countries of the continents, I tried to make other types of puppets.
I tried to create my own style, the base is the recovery and the mousse.

I position myself between tradition and modernity.


Nama is a traditional Malinké mask that I love very much, which comes out when there is a party in the village with all the other masks.

He gave me the love of my people, because at every party we were all very happy.

From an early age I have always kept the name Nama in my mind, when I arrived in Bamako and I wanted to form my professional company, this is the name I wanted to give it, to pay homage and to remember my childhood.

The Nama Company has a workplace, I sleep here,  we have the laboratory, the office, the refectory.


In the morning we are 12 people.

In the Company we have the sculptor, the writer, the painter, the costume designer, the iron worker and the welder.

If, for example, we want to make a traditional mask and I have not looked for wood, I bring it and the sculptor begins to sculpt, when he has finished, we give him the varnish, after the varnish we begin to dress it, and in the end there is the proof, to understand how we will manipulate it.

We can also make a puppet in the morning before noon, and start rehearsing the puppet in the afternoon.

For example, if we make it with foam rubber, we go to the shop, buy the material, sculpt it, and then try: this is part of modernity.

We create in the morning and in the afternoon we try.

It's really easy that way.

We buy the fabric, the color we want, we glue it with glue, we put it in the sun and an hour later we begin to try.

If the text is not long, we work with improvisation, we can create a small story between us, but if the text is long it takes a little more time because we have to learn it in a professional way.

We don't act without music.

In the company there are three musicians, the rest are puppeteers, we do everything ourselves.

When you are a percussionist, there are times when you can become a puppeteer.

When you are a sculptor, there are times when you can become a manipulator.

We are truly versatile.

Even the welders, in the Company, are the same manipulators, they are the same who do the painting, they are the same who make the costumes.

In our country, women are not allowed to make puppets: in all traditional Malian festivals there is no female puppeteer on stage.

I tried to bring women on stage and train them too.

We currently have four women in the Society and we also have a training section of 16 women.

They are two years of training: writing, construction, directing, puppet arts.

There is all of West Africa: Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina, Togo and Benin.

We have made a call for applications, there are women who have applied, we have chosen 8 from the Sub-Region and 8 from Mali.

We will accompany each of these artists to create her own show.

We have a festival called Rendez-vous chez nous in Bamako, and we will be programming them in the festival. 

Through women, puppet art can really go a long way. 


In our shows I use Bama, the crocodile, to put it on the antelope's back.

The three caimans of the coat of arms of the city of Bamako mean the origin of the city of Bamako, Bama Ko means "the crocodile's back".

There are several meanings, there are others that say Bamba Ko was a person who founded Bamako.

In the string puppets I have animals that live in the water, such as the hippo, the fish ... 

This year we have set up a project, which is entitled: For the defense of Mr. Niger, with twelve artists who we will train in the art of the puppet, then we will create a show, for the protection of the Niger River that crosses Bamako and which we will present in all the districts of Bamako, and then to Segou.
For the creation of the show I thought of calling the Bozos, to collaborate with them to create the puppets that will be in the water.

The show will run in all the districts of Bamako that are located on the banks of the river, and also around Bamako.

The project lasts two years, we will launch the call for applications to artists who are interested, we will start with a puppet art training workshop.
And at the end of this lineup, we will create the show.
We want to start creating by August.


Our themes are related to the current life of the country. 

For example, in my last show, Le chat pellerin, when I started thinking about the text, it was because of the coup in Mali and the problem in northern Mali.

We have begun to see how the cat and the mouse do not get along: they are sworn enemies.

We thought about how people from the north and south don't get along.

At the end of the show, the cat and the mouse manage to reconcile.

We ask the audience the question: "Since the cat and the mouse have reconciled, why not humans?"

We have a skit we created at the beginning of Covid.

With the puppets we made a small text to make people aware of how to protect themselves.

We look at the context, the moment that exists, and we make a creation, or we take a story that is adaptable to these moments.

Covid prevention measures - Nama Company

The idea for us is to really go towards the population, to raise awareness.

In Mali, most of the society is neglected, people don't have much money to see shows, for some people to see shows is a bit expensive, we go to them, to be able to present our show. 

We have giant puppets, we are asked to go and play in almost all the big festivals in Mali.

Our giant puppet show went to the Francophonie Games and we got a bronze medal.

We mix traditional and modern giant puppets to create a show.

This is our ability, the evolution of our art, we mix all disciplines.

Another project we have is to train fifty young people in the central regions of Mali, where there are many problems.

Last year we did the first part of the project, with sixteen young people who came to our workshop, and in the end we created eight giant puppets, twenty-three string puppets, ten habitable puppets and seventeen portable masks.

We created a show called Peace and Security.

In the villages, with the boys, after the show, we talked to the people. 

We recited in Sofara, a country that is full of jihadists, in the end the mayor of Sofara came to tell me, publicly, that there hadn't even been any wedding ceremonies for three years.

Through the puppets, even the jihadists who lived in the village came to see, I was moved.

We made a little video documentation about it.

We were supported by a German NGO located in Mali, given the result of the project, they asked us to continue this year as well.

Soon, we will start with fifty young people, to create four shows.

Let's start with twenty-five, then another group of twenty-five guys, and each group will create two shows.

We will create the different puppets through the story we have chosen.

For me, in the future, the puppet is a key element to unite, to make peace, to reconcile the whole population.

I take the example here.

When there is a problem in the neighborhood, we go out with our puppets, people get distracted, stop, look at us, calm down.

Starting from this, I tell myself, that all over the world, the only art that can stop all problems is the puppet art, because when you see us, everything you are doing right now, you stop, look and you listen.

Puppet art is the key to peace around the world.

It is the best communication tool on earth.


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