Category Archives: Song of the Week

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Terakaft – Taddaza

This week’s track was the highlight of an outstanding Terakaft concert in Dalston of November last year. Terakaft, in their own words, are “the perfect embodiment of all that is wild and free in desert blues today. They have taken the electric guitar and made it their own.” Terakaft was formed in 2001 between Kedhou ag Ossad, Liya ag Ablil, and Sanou ag Ahmed, with Kedhou previously being involved and remaining strongly associated with the desert blues band Tinariwen.

Terakaft are an excellent example of the ‘desert blues – a genre of music so closely associated with northern Mali and the southern/Saharan Maghreb region. Their music personifies their origin; the mystic, seemingly endless and hypnotic desert geography of north Africa. SoundCrash, the event organiser, summarises wonderfully:

“Terakaft are a genuine Tuareg desert rock band sculpted by the rolling sands of the Sahara: weathered, dusty, relentless, endless. Through droning guitars, pulsating rhythms, and powerful, mournful vocals, Terakaft – ‘Caravan’ in their mother tongue – tell tales of a nomadic people, of families displaced, of violence, loss, sadness and defiance.”

Terakaft are dedicated desert people through and through. Some band members have declined the opportunities to travel abroad with the band, preferring to remain in behind at home “in the desert”.

This week’s track is an example of Terakaft’s more melodic work. Known strongly for their rolling and hypnotic rhythm sections, ‘Taddaza’ is more catchy, emotive and adventurous. It certainly gets a crowd moving.

 

 

Terakaft – Taddaza

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Djelimady Tounkara – Mansa (Mali)

The Malian griot of the modern age faces a dilemma that his or her ancestors didn’t really encounter.  Griots have always been able to attract great followings and reputations. However, the wide spread accessibility to analogue and now digital broadcasting and recording has warped the social mobility of griots and their audiences have boomed. There is a generation of a certain age that had to encounter this for the first time.  It presented a different set of difficulties to the griot ‘caste’ than in the context of contemporary, youthful Malians like Rokia Traore. People like Tounkara and Ali Farka Toure were pioneers.

As described in Worldmusic.net‘s The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends, Djelimady – despite growing up surrounded by traditional music being played by his family – was told by his parents that yes, becoming a musician was a nice idea but perhaps he should pursue something more ‘practical’. On this Tounkara and his parents disagreed, with Djelimady believing that upon arriving in Bamako from his home-town of Kita he would become a tailor. His parents hoped he would become a marabout – a scholarly Muslim cleric.

It seems that fate and his ancestry would win the day and decades later Tounkara is now widely regarded as one of his country’s greatest ever guitarists. Indeed, whilst living in Kita (a town that punches remarkably above its weight in producing musical talents) as a young man Tounkara gained a reputation as a good drummer and excellent guitarist – regarded as the best by many. This reputation led to his graduation from the government-sponsored neighbourhood band Orchestre Misira to the Orchestre National – an impressive feat and a great honour.

Fate played its part again in the early 1970s with Tournkara’s meeting with Salif Keita – an individual already destined to dominate African and world music. Despite President Moussa Traoré‘s “cataclysmic” decision to disband all state-sponsored bands, Tournkara’s career accelerated whilst being a part of Keita’s ‘Rail Band’. Disruption to the band’s membership and high-profile exits promoted Tournkara to the lime-light as lead-guitarist. This responsibility cemented his perception in the minds of Malian’s that he was one of their country’s greatest ever. He has worked on several fantastic collaborations, and was one of the many unlucky African musicians to miss out on the highly succesful and iconic Buena Vista Social Club project due to visa troubles. This was later redeemed following Tournkara’s involvement in the collaborative epic AfroCubism.

As a result of all the above it is not as surprising, perhaps, to learn that he only produced his first solo album ‘Sigui’ in 2001. However, exploring this award-winning work will have to wait, as this week’s track in an older classic that showcases his mastery of the rhythm guitar – a much overlooked discipline when one thinks of “guitar legends”.

Djelimady Tounkara – Mansa (Mali)

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Vieux Farka Toure – Paradise

A “achingly beautiful” song from Vieux’s second studio album ‘Fondo‘. Its beauty is woven by a duet between Vieux and the great Toumani Diabate on kora.

Now it is tempting to say that Vieux has taken a break from the usual tact of the desert blues – not full of guitar-licks and vibrant-chord strokes. Yet in its calmness and serenity it retains the characteristic mysticism that encapsulates Malian music.

From the first note it encourages you to sit back and drink it in. I suggest you take a moment and go along with it.

 

Vieux Farka Toure – Paradise

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Balla Tounkara – Le Monde est Fou

Happy New Year!

After a short, festive break the ‘Track of the Week’ is back with a Malian-Cuban collaboration from Balla Tounkara. Tounkara is a lesser-known kora player and singer but his skills are outstanding.

A contributor to Abijan.net has this to say about the young griot “La musique de Balla représente le meilleur de la tradition et de l`innovation – une harmonie fluide du vieux et du nouveau monde/Balla’s music represents the best of tradition and innovation – a fluid harmony of old and new world. ” It is not a surprise that his music, like many other Malian’s, blends brilliantly with that of Cuba – a country that also benefits culturally, in its own unique way, from its mesh of old and new world culture.

“With Kora it is possible to play all the music in the world” says Balla. “My dream is to integrate the kora in all my experiences, as well as the culture of Mali in modern styles.”

‘Le Monde est Fou’ is an excellent realisation of that dream.

Balla Tounkara – Le Monde est Fou

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Boubacar Traoré – Sa Golo

“Boubacar Traore’s stately, affecting acoustic guitar and unpretentious, story-led vocals are just about as satisfying as it gets in downtown Bamako” – John Armstrong

Boubacar Traoré’s rise to fame has been pitted with difficulties. Its a story that reads similarly to Issa Bagayogo’s; a talented young man gets a lucky break when he takes a chance do forge a music career in Bamako. During immediate post-independence from France in the 1960’s “it seemed as though he’d made the big time. Every morning Traoré would be on national radio, greeting the country with his song “Mali Twist,” a love letter to the new nation.” Again, like Issa, this success didn’t translate into income, and Traoré was left unable to pay the bills or feed his family. Years of hard times and unstable employment followed and his music was relegated to a mere hobby. The sudden death of his wife in 1987 was an awful moment, and has been described as a turning point in Boubacar’s life path. With many of his children already in adulthood, he moved to France and laboured away alongside other Malians in construction sites.

He began playing again and was eventually sought out by an British producer. Boubacar produced his first album at the end of the 80s and began touring in the early 90s, with good success. Other albums followed, through to his most recent in 2011 entiteld ‘Mali Denhou’.

Like “Techno-Issa”, Boubacar Traoré has his own nickname. Boubacar goes by the nickname Kar Kar or “the one who dribbles too much” in the language of Bambara in reference to his child-hood football playing.  As he describes, Kar Kar is “a nickname I got from playing soccer when I was young. People would yell ‘Kari, Kari’ – dribble, dribble – the name stuck with me”.

 

Boubacar Traoré – Sa Golo

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Rokia Traoré – Finini

It has been a good year for Rokia Traoré, as far as success in a musical career can go. She released her 5th studio album, “Beautiful Africa”, and staged a tour that won praise both here, across Europe and in the USA. What is most striking about Traoré is the way she is being described at present. She is being solidified as one of the greats of Malian music. She is continuously being cited alongside legends such as Salif Keita and Ali Farka Toure and being heralded for her close association with the Africa Express and her performance at Glastonbury Festival. And though her most recent album has not been applauded by all with the same enthusiasm as in the past, its clear that Rokia Traoré has an enduring class about her work.

This week we roll back the clock to her first album “Mouneïssa“. It was made following a meeting and guidance by Ali Farka Toure, which could explain its more traditional orientation. However, Rokia’s knack for originality and breaking the mould is still easily identifiable. She hints of this with the pairing of the balaba – the large balafon of her region – and the ngoni an instrument favored by Bambara griots. In addition, the album also contains a blend of modern and traditional vocal techniques. This week’s track, Finini, is a great example of this.

Rokia Traoré – Finini

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Fatoumata Diawara – Kanou

Another great track from World Circuit Records, “Kanou” provides a great summary of what makes Fatoumata Diawara‘s work so good. Despite her relatively young age, Diawara has grown to be a very important and influential artist on the African music scene. She has a professionalism and drive that has made her a leading voice in Mali’s political affairs. She was also one of the Malian big-guns that was parachuted in with the rest of the Africa Express to help revive Mali’s music scene.

This professional drive carries over into her music. Her music is always excellently produced and on this track in particular the guitar and percussion gently and effortlessly glides together in such a deliberate fashion. Finely tuned but still natural and warm at its very core. It makes for delightful listening.

 

Fatoumata Diawara – Kanou

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Soubour

This week’s track of the week heralds the return of the Africa Express – a collective of African and world musicians led by Damon Albarn. No longer a project of one-off festival performances or extraordinary, train-commandeering super tours but now in the form of a début album entitled “Maison Des Jeunes” which was recorded in Mali in October in just 7 days.

On the Africa Express website it is explained that “Africa Express musicians and producers set up a temporary studio in a city youth club and worked with a new wave of contemporary Malian musicians to complete the album in one week. The club, situated on the banks of the Niger river and known locally as Maison Des Jeunes, became the venue for a week of discovery, collaboration, music-making and live performances.”  With them was a BBC crew that captured the magic as it unfolded, documenting the creative industry of up-and-coming Malian talents working alongside some world greats like Brian Eno and Salif Keita. Since mid-October the BBC have produced two decent reports into how the Africa Express’s arrival serves as a significant milestone for the regeneration of Mali’s music scene in the wake of the conflict.

This week’s track is the result of a collaboration between Timbuktu indie band Songhoy Blues and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner. In their first ever studio session they produced the track ‘Soubour’ and if this racy, adolescent stormer is anything to go by, the rest of the album will be a treat – just check out the list of other contributors.

So, as the place to record its first album, why did the Africa Express choose Mali? For many it is about solidarity. In recognition of the enormous strife that has afflicted Mali’s creative industries over the past two years many foreign artists have been driven by a sense of duty to revive it. For Malian artists it is a home-coming parade of sorts. Many, like legendary Malian guitarist Afel Boucum, thought he would never return to his homeland.

Same is the story for Songhoy Blues. They formed in response to the occupation that saw secular music banned. But the confidence oozing from a commanding riff like the one in ‘Soubour’ suggests that their contribution to Maison des Jeunes is something more than a celebration. It suggests gusty defiance and pride in the fact that they, with many others, stood up and fought their own battle for Mali’s and its music – and won.


Songhoy Blues – Soubour

 

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There will be a “Maison De Jeunes” launch party in East London on the 9th of December. Should be one for any music-lovers diary. For information and tickets see: http://www.rockfeedback.com/concerts/detail/africa-express-album-launch-maison-des-jeunes Hope to see you there.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Issa Bagayogo – Dama

For a man of rural origins, it is brilliant that Issa Bagayogo has become the one Malian musician to be given the nick name “Techno-Issa” in recognition to his experimentation with blending traditional music and the electronic samples. Ever brilliant is the fact that the story could have been very different for Bagayogo. Growing up in the 1960s in rural southern Mali he was first introduced to music through the playing of the daro – a bell that keeps farm workers labouring. He then picked up the kamele n’goni and at the age of 30 left his local successes and the difficulties of agricultural life to take a shot at a musical career in Bamako – an equally difficult journey.

He struck some luck in the form of a pair of Frenchmen who had recently opened a studio and needed a n’goni player. Despite this fortune and successfully producing a cassette of his own money was short and he returned home. Two years later he returned to Bamako to produce his second cassette with similar result. However instead of returning home he became an apprentice bus driver, but depression set in and his health deteriorated.

It could have ended this way, but Chris Nickson explains his incredible turn-around:

“Eventually, however, he decided to turn his life around and began playing and singing again. He returned to the studio, where he met French engineer Yves Wernert and Foamed Koné, who’d been a guitarist in Ali Farka Touré’s band. What they wanted to attempt was something radically different for African music, mixing traditional music with beats and samples. At first Bagayogo was unsure, if only because it was so unlike anything he’d done. He’d never worked with drum machines before and the process proved complex. In late 1998, though, Sya was released, selling a phenomenal 15,000 copies and getting Bagayogo an award in 1999 as Malian song’s Brightest New Hope and the nickname of Techno Issa, in addition enabling him to finally quit his job as an apprentice bus driver.”

This week’s song of the week is from the 2002 album he released shortly after called “Timbuktu”. It was an international hit and Techno Issa became a house-hold name. A powerful story of determination and a struggle quite the contrary to the creative and lively jive he has become known for.

 

Issa Bagyogo – Dama

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Oumou Sangare – Yala

In our post last week we suggested that Sali Sidibe may have been the “the original Wassoulou musician of this popular age of Malian music”. This undermined Oumou Sangare‘s – as well as many other’s – claim to the title. So this week, it has been decided that we give Oumou a chance to make her own case.

Of course it is impossible to ever decide on these things, but Oumou’s successes are enormous. A Grammy Award Winner, she is sometimes described as the “Songbird of Wassoulou“. Her record label is the great World Circuit Records who describe her in the following way:

“Oumou Sangare is Mali’s great diva, and one of the world’s most astounding female voices. Her idiom is the hauntingly beautiful and hypnotically rhythmic home-grown music that has become her trademark: Wassoulou.”

Sangare has many great songs and she will no-doubt be making another appearance on the Hub in the weeks and months to come, but this week we are putting up a very fun track. Certain to jazz-up any Wednesday morning.

Oumou Sangare – Yala