Category Archives: Song of the Week

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Les Sofas de la République – Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia

So far the Mali Track of the Week has been generally selected from a bluesy artist which has achieved particular recognition in the Western world. This week’s entry hopes to shake this up a little.

Hip-hop or Rap music is arguably the most revolutionary and influential addition to the art form to arise in the last 30 years. Its distinctive sound is delivered inseparably to its unique cultural and political perspectives. In the 1990s and 2000s hip-hop became a global change-making powerhouse which has left no stone unturned. Its power as a vehicle for societal change emphasised most strikingly by Jay-Z’s inclusion in Time Magazine’s world-wide list of the 100 most influential people of 2013. Note that unlike in other years where a rapper has been listed under ‘artists’, Jay-Z had broken through, listed under the emphatic title of ‘Titan’ in an article written by the Mayor of New York City.

Rap music has been on the scene in Mali since the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, hip-hop’s strengths in articulating grievance, injustice, marginalisation but also hope, loyalty and determination has found many followers. One example of which is this week’s track from Les Sofas de la République.

Les Sofas get their name from the warriors of Samory Touré – one of Africa’s great king’s who during the 19th century fought for African freedom and fiercely resisted French imperialism. They are a collective of musicians who have a very active and engaged history as shown in this fascinating article. Andy Morgan writes of the group who formed the day after Captain Sanogo’s military coup of March 22nd 2012 in his book Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali:

‘Les Sofas aren’t your classic ‘band’ as such, think of them more as a rap posse, a self-help association, a pressure group, a political party, an educational charity and a think tank, all rolled into one.’

Les Sofas’s song ‘Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia’ (which translates as ‘Leave Us In Peace!’) was also created in reaction to a deeply troubling and violent political development. The song was released following an attack on May 21st 2012 on the Presidential Palace in Bamako by – in Morgan’s words – ‘a mob of protesters stirred up by Sanogo and opposition parties’. Morgan notes the song’s potent lyrics and how Les Sofas use the song to describe their mood, and the mood of many other Malians, following the attack; that all that was precious in their country and that was good about their politics had been lost to a violent and aloof struggle for power:

“Taking up arms Malians, fiercer and fiercer yeaah. Taking up arms and making blood flow yeaah. Making tears flow and making us lose time, bothering us with stupid details…Our relatives are dying up in the north while we try and agree on who will take the tiller.”

Powerful and provocative. Thought-provoking and fearless; doing what hip-hop does best.


Les Sofas de la République – Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Sidi Touré – Ni See Ay Ga Done

Sidi Touré is a guitarist from the Songhaï region of Northern Mali.  The Songhaï region once had a medieval Empire of the same name ruling over it with its capital city in Gao – the modern city being a place of severe and on-going instability despite the arrival of peacekeepers and elections. With this in mind, it is fitting that Sidi’s music captures the traditional tones that many feel is the key to Malian music’s global popularity.

Sidi Touré was one of many contributors of a stunning event at the Barbican in London back in January. Musicians performing in exile at the height of the crisis. Sidi is right up there with Mali’s most exciting and famous artists, despite only really hitting the international scene in 2011. This week’s track shows off the pacey, multi-layered, traditional blend that has become Sidi Touré’s unique identity.


Sidi Touré – Ni See Ay Ga Done

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ballaké Sissoko – Nalesonko (live)

The kora (or cora) is a beautiful and elegant instrument in sound and appearance. Traditionally it is a 21-string harp but formed with a resonator and neck much like a guitar. The resonator is formed from half of a large calabash vegetable covered in a cow skin with the neck made of a long piece of hard wood. They are played extensively across West Africa and Ballaké Sissoko is one of the best surely only ranking second to the “uncontested star” of the kora Toumani Diabaté – who some may remember had the honour of being our first Mali Track of the Week back in July.

Sissoko became world famous with his magical – borderline legendary – collaboration “Chamber Music” created with French cellist Vincent Segal. Two years on the magic has not diminished and this week’s track “Nalesonko” comes from Sissoko’s 2013 album “At Peace”. Segal is ever present in this new venture but takes up a different role as discussed in this review for NPR music. Where Segal plays more of an overseeing role this time Sissoko launches in, centre-stage, showing off the full delights of the kora throughout.

This week’s track is one of those that has only one flaw – it ends. Enjoy listening and watching this one.


Ballaké Sissoko – Natesonko

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Amadou and Mariam – Sabali

This week’s track you have possibly heard before, or it at least should sound familiar. With its modern beat and synthesised elements it appears more akin to contemporary Western music, no doubt resulting from the influence of the track’s producer Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz).

But this is Amadou and Mariam’s greatest strength; they have a knack for remaining profoundly modern and in touch. The pair met in 1975 at Mali’s Institute for Young Blind People and have been producing music ever since. Both Amadou and Mariam were born in the 1950s, and by the time they met had both lost their sight. They began making music immediately.

Soon after they began recording and releasing music in Europe in the mid 1990s they found fame, success and themselves collaborating with some of the world’s most prestigious and forefront musical artists. According to their Wikipedia page they co-wrote the 2006 FIFA World Cup song (entitled “Celebrate The Day”) which topped the German charts and performed in an internationally-broadcast concert kick-starting the 2010’s World Cup, hosted in South Africa, alongside Alicia Keys, John Legend, Tinariwen and Shakira in front of 80 000 people and hundreds of millions of TV viewers.

They have won a whole host of awards and unlike some other African artists they have been highly successful in many African, North American, and European countries. Perhaps their artistic desire to write songs in many different African and European languages has something to do with it.

This week’s track “Sabali” epitomises much of the above. Its is exciting and catchy in its own right, building into the idea that while Malian music is a place to be reflective, like last weeks track,  it can be equally contemporary, youthful and animated.

Amadou & Mariam – Sabali

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Vieux Farka Touré – Ay Bakoy

Now, this week is a big one. The track is “Ay Bakoy” by rising super-star Vieux Farka Touré. Vieux has inevitably spent most of his career being spoken to in reference to his father, the late and great, Ali Farka Touré. Vieux’s latest album “Mon Pays” that was released in May could potentially change this. The emotional weight and maturity that rings through the album shows that Vieux is even more than the fantastically fun, energetic, electric guitar wielding showman many of us have come to admire. Upon release a statement on his own website describes how the album “is a homage to beautiful Mali and her people”. In his own words:

“For me it is a statement for the world that this land is for the sons and daughters of Mali, not for Al Qaeda or any militants. This land is for peace and beauty, rich culture and tolerance. This is our heritage, what we must always fight to protect in any way that we can. For me, that means making music that reminds the world of who we are.”

Fresh from his musical adventures with Israeli pianist and vocalist Idan Raichel the album has depth, precision and effortless sophistication to show that Vieux, like Ali before him, has the potential to use his talents to capture the imagination of his country and the world.

The album is also overtly political. For example the title of the two tracks made in collaboration with fellow Malian artist Sidiki Diabate are entitled “Future” and “Peace”. The track “Ay Bakoy” itself feels particularly reflective especially as a new political era in Mali struggles into existence following the worst violence for a generation. Vieux confesses that the album’s direction was already underway before the crisis began to unfold in January 2012. It appears that Vieux has embraced the added significance thrust upon the album and has delivered on it beautifully.

Vieux Farka Toure  – Ay Bakoy

Vieux Farka Touré is touring at present, with some dates in Europe including one date in London at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 24th.


Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Bombino – Imuhar

It’s Wednesday morning and that means only one thing: it is time for a song from Mali. Today we are delighted to introduce our first musician of Tuareg heritage to feature on the Track of the Week: Omara “Bombino” Moctar. The Tuareg or Kel Tamasheq, as they refer to themselves, have their own deep musical, political, and religious history that is well worth exploring. Andy Morgan has recently published a book that goes a long way in explaining this history and perhaps can begin to help one understand how the Tuareg often struggle in modern Malian life, including with the issue of their independence and their involvement in the country’s current armed conflict.

Bombino himself has an incredible life story which can be read in great detail here. He was born on the first day of 1980 in an encampment of Nomadic Tuaregs in Niger and his life can in many ways relate to the issues outlined above. After the droughts of the mid-80s and during the conflict on the early 90s Bombino – through chance – found himself in possession of a guitar. The guitar had recently been adopted by the Tuareg as a way of projecting their teachings and values through song. At an age not much older than 10 he began to teach himself and after a while Bombino found himself incorporating his music into political rallies and other cultural crafts – including cinema. He even managed to land a role as an extra in a French film that explains the origin of the title of this song of the week.

We have found this delightful live rendition of his and his band’s song “Imuhar” in the link below. Like most music from Mali and the Sahel it takes on an ever-greater energy and purpose when performed live. Bombino is performing live in London on the 25th October. We’ll probably see you there.

Bombino – Imuhar


Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Fatoumata Diawara – Nayan

This week’s track comes from a very different character that also graced the stages of Glastonbury a few weeks back. It gives us great pleasure to present Fatoumata Diawara and her song Nayan.

Diawara is great. Vibrant, youthful, strong and switched-on. She sings in her native tongue Bambara and lives in Paris with her Italian husband. An active and vocal member of Mali’s musical elite, she is quickly becoming an influential spokesperson – or “ambassador” as some have described it – for her people in France. She’s also got a spritely Twitter account which might be worth a follow.

Luckily, we’ve found a YouTube link that has translation of “Nayan” from Bambara to English. No verifications are available, but according to the person who posted the video:

 ‘Nayan’ in Bambara can be translated into a number of meanings depending on the context it is used; it can mean ‘Problem’, ‘Near Tears’, ‘Bad consequences’, ‘terrible drama’, ‘endurance’ and so on. Within the context of this song; Diawara refers to the problems women face within Malian traditional norms and the suffering women endure within what many would interpret as ‘Male dominated’ societies that African traditions and cultures across the continent convey.

A classic example of the kind of statement Diawara builds  into her music. Emancipating and stirring, soothing and rich.
Fatoumata Diawara – Nayan

NEW FEATURE! : Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Yes! A new weekly feature for the Hub will plunge a hand deep into the rich and diverse pool of Malian music and pluck out one song for our enjoyment.

To launch this feature we have a chosen a song that has an extra special significance.  Glastonbury Festival 2013 showed excellent solidarity with Malian artists by flooding its line-up with some really big names. We felt we ought to recognise this and thank Glastonbury for highlighting the difficulties that Mali’s music and culture has faced over recent months.

The fantastic Toumani Diabaté was scheduled in to  the prestigious job of opening the festival proper by being the first act to grace the Pyramid Stage on the Friday morning. With great sadness, Diabaté was forced to withdraw due to a bout of malaria. We’ve chosen this beauty from him to wish Diabaté to get well soon.


Toumani Diabaté – Cantelowes


Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week is a weekly feature chosen in advance. If you feel that a particular artist should get special recognition at any time please get in touch with your suggestions.