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Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Damon Albarn,  Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté & Friends – Makelekele

A really potent song this week as we stray back to 2002 and the collaborative album put together by Damon Albarn alongside prominent Malian musicians Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabaté. ‘Makelekele’ is a racy and punchy song, similar to the song ‘Soubour’ by Songhoy Blues. It oozes imagery of the Africa of the imminent future. Youthful, colourful, headstrong. Full of life and potential.

Few references allude to the origin of the word ‘Makelekele’. It could refer to the district of the Congolese city of Kinshasa – and by looking at the other song titles from the album ‘Mali Music‘ this theory is just about plausible. Songs entitled ‘Tennessee Hotel’, ‘Spoons’ and ‘4am at Touamani’s’ are all equally obscure but still allude to some sort of initial inspirational spark – a moment where all these musicians came together to build up a small idea. Yet this is the nature of successful collaborative projects – ideas can extrude from anywhere and you run with it. The best ones become songs.

Whatever the original intentions for ‘Makelekele’ it is still very fun listening.

Damon Albarn, Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté & Friends – Makelekele

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

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

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

Toumani Diabaté – Jarabi

Continuing the recent posts of Malian griots, today’s track of the week is our second Toumani Diabaté song so far.

Considered by many to be “the world’s greatest kora player“, Diabaté will be entertaining London in the Royal Festival Hall in November. Again he comes from a rich family of kora players and oral historians including his father Sidiki Diabaté who recorded the first ever kora album in 1970.

His own research shows that his family have been doing this for 71 generations. Hundreds of years of human learning, knowledge and experience. History is contained in his work and that of his own family – which continues to make history also. To some of us it must appear strange for a person’s life’s work to be destined so. The on-going instability and violence in Mali are a threat to their existence – much like conflict is a threat to anything endangered and precious in the world. Luckily, due to the joy and respect for griots the world over there is a new generation taking up the reigns.

For now, with Toumani Diabaté, we still have an example of a generation that is still undoubtedly at its best.

Toumani Diabaté – Jarabi

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Rokia Traoré – Ka Moun Ké

The story of Rokia Traoré usually starts with a discussion about caste in Malian society. Though music is very much the life-blood of Malian society its creation and practice has traditionally been regarded as a profession of a “certain lowly caste” called “griots“. Now, this description of a “lowly caste” is slightly at odds with the perception of a griot as “something of a societal leader due to his traditional position as an adviser to royal personages”. The best comparison that can be made in a British perspective is that of a bard.

However, unlike bards, griots are not a a thing of the past. Originating from the 13th Century Mali Empire they continue to serve a crucial role in Mali today.  Naturally, they have modernised. For example Bakari Sumano – the head of Malian association of griots till his death in 2003 – acted as a consultant to UNESCO and participated in seminars around the world.

So, why does this matter to the story of Rokia Traoré? Stacia Proefrock explains:

“Rokia Traore’s family was both a blessing and a curse for her musical career. Her father was a diplomat and she spent her childhood travelling over several continents, to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, and France. There she was exposed to a variety of styles of music, from classical, jazz, and pop to Indian traditional composition. However, her family was also part of Mali’s nobility, which has traditional caste prohibitions against their members making music.”

Luckily for us, the listener, her family – though not initially keen on her musical ambitions – were not strict enough to prevent her from pursuing it. Her adventures around the world have had a profound effect on her music, producing a  worldly blend of traditional and modern instruments fashioned in her own personalised style.

This week’s track is a great example of the above. It shows her characteristically strong but smooth vocals over a gentle minimalist mix of traditional Malian sounds over a rhythm of electric guitar and a steady jazz beat.

Rokia Traoré – Ka Moun Ké

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Samba Touré – Be Ki Don

Born close to Diré near the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, Ibrahima Samba Touré is a successful Malian guitarist and singer. The quality of Samba’s artistry is best signified by that fact he used to be in Ali Farka Touré’s band and was invited by Toumani Diabaté to recreate his mentor’s work on his Ali Farka Touré Variations tour.

This week’s track comes from his most recent album “Albala” which means “Danger” and has many politically motivated tracks on it, as well as those created as a response to Samba’s experience with the recent turmoil.  He is known for his cool and glittering guitar solos backed by a hypnotic roll of acoustic, bass and electric guitars in an “insistent” rhythm section. In this manner “Be Ki Don” does not disappoint.

 

Samba Touré – Be Ki Don