Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Lassina Coulibaly & Yan Kadi Faso- Soundjata 

Another week, another city rocked by violence. This time its the turn of Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, suffering its first major attack from al-Qaeda affiliated group AQIM. Much has been made of Burkina Faso’s place in the global picture of violence and instability, with some pointing to tragedies that occurred simultaneously, though seemingly unrelated directly, while many others have inspected the aftermath looking for clues to shed light onto al-Qaeda’s strategic positioning and organisational health more generally. Though it is worth pointing out that in their own terms this latest attack was merely ‘drop in the sea of global jihad.’  Trouble has been brewing in Burkina Faso for a while, but it is only now that people have considered it to be firmly in the ‘terrorised’ club of countries around the world.

Across the border – and indeed at the border – with neighbouring Mali the security situation continues to be a challenge. With Burkina Faso to the south and east and a peace deal with the Tuareg-led coalition in the northern regions still unobtainable Mali is currently dealing with militant groups on at least two different fronts. Therefore, the recent announcement that Mali and Burkina Faso were to collaborate on matters relating to the ‘fight against terrorism‘ are welcome though details remain unclear. It is certain that Burkina Faso, like Mali before it, could well be in the scrap of its life. With its first Presidential elections in decades happening only last November, with a failed coup by a section of its elite in the interim, Burkina Faso’s political, civil and military systems are especially vulnerable at present. The vacuum left by years of authoritarian governance is already being exploited, a uncharted bay in the ‘sea of global jihad’. Its almost enough to make Mali look like the stable partner within the arrangement. It will be interesting to see how Mali’s relationship with its neighbour develops and whether a full-blow crisis, similar to that seen in Mali in 2012, ever emerges.

Mali and Burkina Faso’s neighbourly relations go back much further than the past few weeks. Its peoples were once joined in the grand Malian Empire of the middle ages, the topic of this week’s Song of the Week being a legendary tale from that time. The song is composed and performed by Lassina Coulibaly who hails from both Mali and Burkina Faso along with many other, predominantly Malian, African musicians – the Yan Kadi Faso band. Together they produced an entire album of beautiful arrangements, with the kora and djembe putting in particularly delightful performances. With an entire album to explore – entitled “Musiques Du Burkina Faso & Du Mali” – the music has the space to captures a huge range of different West African cultures such as the Bambara, Dioula, Gouin, Maninka, Fulani, and Samoro peoples.

For this week, and likely for a little while longer, Mali and Burkina Faso will be countries joined in misery. Yet for centuries, past and future, their peoples are engaged in the production of the purest joy.

 

Lassina Coulibaly & Yan Kadi Faso – Soundjata

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Siren Fen

For the previous  two occasions the opening Song of the Week of the year has been delivered by a Malian griot. Not wanting to break tradition just yet we return from a short break with ngoni grand-master Bassekou Kouyate. Siren Fen is from Kouyate’s most recent album ‘Ba Power’ released in 2015. With 3 more albums already under his belt, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba used ‘Ba Power’ to push the boundaries a little further and earned themselves great recognition, making it to the number 1 spot on a BBC ‘Top African Tracks of 2015‘ list compiled by DJ Rita Ray with this week’s song. She points to its “magical blend of ancient griot traditions and modern music making”. The use of electronic elements is particularly new for Kouyate, who we can hear using wah pedal and distortion effects through-out the song.

Onward into this New Year we march, leaving an exceptional year for Malian and African music behind. Hopes for the continent for 2016 noted in this article allude to the fact that Mali’s Festival Au Desert continues its exile. However in 2015 new festivals, in Segou in particular, gained traction and many artists have albums due for release this year. So while the security situation remains bleak the artistic outlook for the country is quite excellent. We’re delighted to have Kouyate kick-off what should be another successful year for the Hub.

 

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Siren Fen

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Yacouba Sissoko Band – Chanson Denko Tapestry

Track 8 from the 2013 album Maison des Jeunes, Yacouba Sissoko and his band bring a feast of percussion to this collaboration compilation. The musicians on the album were a real range of characters. Songhoy Blues did their début European performance in London at the album’s launch party, with producers Damon Albarn and Brian Eno present to help things along. British artists Ghostpoet and Metronomy were also involved not only in the production of the album but in nurturing the talent that were lucky enough to get a foot in the door. It was an important moment for the Malian music industry, but also for the British scene too. Bands like Songhoy Blues have become astonishingly popular in UK hipster circles, along with other West African superstars like Ebo Taylor and Fela Kuti. Rarely can an evening out go by in the bars of East London or Peckham without 1970s Ghanian Funk making an appearance. Well, at least in the places I hang out…

The Sissoko Band track is fairly unconventional for a Malian peice.  It has that familiar mesmerising rhythm, but its the drums that take the lead, with the ngonis yielding to their pace and melodies. Its a dance, perhaps even a duel. They flicker, twist and turn together, endlessly keeping pace. One unknown element is the title; does anyone know what the Chanson Denko Tapestry is?

Yacouba Sissoko Band – Chanson Denko Tapestry

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Nahawa Doumbia – Sadjo

Today’s marks the first appearance of Wassoulou singer Nahawa Doumbia, joining a prestigious club of singers from the region already to appear on the Hub over the past two years; Oumou Sangare easily being the most famous. Wassoulou singers are strongly associated with traditional Malian music. Ever popular with Mali’s people, it is primarily the domain of women and though traditional, its not the preserve of the conservative. Sangare is anything but conventional and artists like Issa Bagayogo have cleverly deployed their striking, soaring vocals into his chilled-out Afro-electro. An excellent blend. Doumbia pulls off a similarly exceptional mix. With deep, pulsing jazz-keys forging the base of the track, ‘Sajdo’ incorporates the kora and a lyrical, poetic genre of singing.

If fact the whole of the album ‘Diby’ is very experimental and worth a listen. Male chorus, percussion from every era, bafalon jams, jazz bass, rumbling keys, bouncing acoustics, ripping guitar solos and a beautiful range of vocals provided by a dynamic and delightful woman.

 

Nahawa Doumbia – Sadjo

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Afel Bocoum – Buribalal

Culture! West Africa is full of it. Mali being a big part of that. It’s neighbours, Guinea and Niger, weigh in heavily in that regard too. And its not just about music and the British Library is currently doing a wonderful job of explaining that. Through manuscript displays, film, sound, textiles, poetry and artefacts the early- to late-modern history of this fantastic region is brought to life in a magnificent exhibition. Here’s a great Christmas Gift idea: for £10.00 (or less!) you can have a Curator-Led tour of the exhibition, available through to February 9th 2016.

Back in the early 90’s – when this week’s Song of the Week was forged – Bocoum was understudy to the great Ali Farka Toure, who had this to say about him in a short documentary: ” In all truth I hope he would go further than me. I think he will contribute to our art, culture and history, we must learn from him too.” Sounds like Farka Toure called it years ahead of time, as I review what we have written previously about Afel Bocoum’s diverse cultural and intellectual offerings. He does not carry the same majesty as Farka Toure, but perhaps no one ever will. And who ever said fame was a precursor to making cultural and historical contributions? Bocoum’s achievements have been great and he is still out there striving, contributing to Mali’s history as he goes. For example, he was an important part of the ‘revival‘ of Mali’s music scene following the war and the ban in 2012 and continues to be a great ambassador for his country and region to the world.

 

Afel Bocoum – Buribalal

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ali Farka Toure – Keito

Chilling are my own words. Reading them back, the curse of hindsight. Last week I wrote in response to the attack in Paris;

‘Will the war in Mali remain ‘forgotten‘ or will this provoke renewed focus on a country that appears to be slipping back to widespread violence?’

Focus has indeed been ‘renewed’ in the worst possible way. Al-Qaeda and its affiliated patchwork of militant groups are believed to have forced its way back into the headlines off the back of ISIS crimes in Paris by attacking a hotel in Bamako, holding 140 hostage and eventually killing 22. A bloody competition between two dreadful groups of people.

Many commentators have responded to the events of the past few weeks by feeling inclined to declare that French society will survive, making one immediately wonder whether these people actually believed that there was a chance it could die out. To emphasise their point, TV personalities like John Oliver and Andrew Neil made and read out lists of “things we have been told are great about France”. John Oliver – a comedian – made his list in comical style, and by doing so he acknowledged that he was participating in shameless nationalistic rabble-rousing in a time that France and all that love her needed it. Neil, however, appeared entirely serious, using references on a cosmic, sensationalist scale, for example by painting a slap-dash picture of the world in a thousands years time. Frankie Boyle’s retort points out the ridiculousness of the style by pointing out that many of the points on Neil’s list either contradict each other or achieved greatness precisely because they refused to be sucked into the prevailing national sentiments of their time, had the courage to challenge military-autocratic France and think creatively and compassionately about the liberty of all mankind, often arguing how the state must be renewed (or demolished) for this to be fully realised. Hardly the current view of Cameron or Hollande.

This rhetoric whips up the idea that this is a clash of culture and civilisation. It is dangerous to believe that the world is organised this simply; in an world without history where the value of ideas, identities and culture are constants. This conveniently forgets (perhaps purposefully) the battles and unpopularity that many revolutionaries faced on their long walks to freedom.

Many times on the Hub we have spoken about the importance of understanding Mali’s unique tolerant and pluralistic brand of Islam. There is a battle, a real battle, to secure these teachings along with Mali’s musical and historical traditions for its future generations. But this requires a moderate, compassionate response, one which Mali and many other countries are not receiving from the outside world. Not from Western governments at least who prefer to build their alliances and ‘shake hands’ with other, more zealous, countries in the Middle-East, somewhat counter productively. At this moment I am reminded by the comments of the Prime Minister of Rwanda in 1994, days before her genocidal murder, in the film adaptation of UN Force Commander Dallaire‘s book ‘Shake Hands with the Devil‘:
Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana: “I love my country. I hope you’ll love it too.”
Romeo Dallaire: “I love its beauty.”
Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana: “Everyone loves beauty. Loving a beautiful child…That’s easy. What’s harder is to love a child that is not so beautiful.”

[YouTube link to film – you may need to put on subtitles]

The metaphor is of Rwandan society – when it turns ugly, will anyone care enough to save it? A similar, frightening parallel can be drawn between France and Mali. France, with its shining light of Paris, is beautiful. Insatiable and oozing with classic human culture. It would be uncivilised not to drop bombs in its defence. Mali, on the other hand, is poor. Its dusty and far away. It is a majority Muslim country, and the situation is far harder to unpick. Who’s side are they on, in this war between us and them? Where do you rally? Where is the unequivocal beauty?

We all know this to be Mali’s music. We should listen to Mali’s musicians – its chief ambassadors for an open and cooperative society. We should not shy away from direct action where we can take it. We are relieved to report that the Mali Development Group’s Malian partners, their staff and all our family and friends have made it out of this most recent, high-profile attack on Bamako okay. Others, as we know, did not. And there will be further attacks as there have been previously. This is not a time to withdraw. In fact its a time to engage more urgently. This is not the time as Frankie Boyle puts it to “for society to go on psychopathic autopilot”. It is neither time to makes a reassuringly long list of things you like, or have been told to like, about your own country. This is the time to take pride in the culture of others. To reach out to try and understand the beauty of things you previously have struggled to understand. That’s why this week we have Ali Farka Toure, the Malian who is single handedly responsible for there being so many people world-wide praying, wishing and working for a safer Mali, and a more beautiful world.

 

 

Ali Farka Toure – Keito

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Sidi Touré – Maïmouna

“I found them more stupid than evil” wrote Nicolas Hénin in summary of his thoughts on Isis. Held captive by them for 10 months he notes what he has seen of them beyond their polished propaganda – pathetic street kids drunk on ideology and power. He adds “That is not to understate the murderous potential of stupidity”.

The attacks in Paris this weekend past were horrid. The numbers of dead and injured, photos of devastation, comments from family, friends and from far-flung strangers acting in solidarity have been well-publicised. In-between feelings of disbelief, people all over the world tried to make sense of it all. What would be an appropriate response individually and for France, in war and in mourning? Who are they, and why did they do it? Even trivial questions like ‘should the football still go ahead?’ gripped headlines. And thankfully the football did (at least in England) as even Clive Tyldesley – commentator for ITV Sport on yesterday’s emotive England v France game – managed to spare the errant sensationalism to contextualise events in a wider misery. Immediately before the “perfectly observed” minute silence he placed Paris alongside cities in Nigeria, Lebanon and Kenya – drawing viewers attention to the fact that events in Paris were high-profile but unfortunately did not stand alone.

Cities in Mali are in the same club. Bound to other places of civilian slaughter around the world. How many of these received the same response at Paris and why does that matter? Much has been said about the bias in the media, especially Facebook, in the past few days. Just about everyone knows that Facebook has algorithms that prioritise certain bits of information. Buzz words, headlines. All promoted and bumped up by sponsors. But Facebook has taken certain decisions that appear to favour western tragedies over others, which is slightly different, and will apparently change in future due to the outrage. Despite this, Malian’s still found their way to express their solidarity online, Songhoy Blues among them – the band being in Paris at the time. Many frequently expressed the sense of a favour-owed following the French military intervention in 2013. Will the war in Mali remain ‘forgotten‘ or will this provoke renewed focus on a country that appears to be slipping back to widespread violence?

From reading exceptional actions of individuals on Friday evening and the following day we are reminded of the actions of Lassana Bathily, the young Malian man who protected a group of frightened shoppers from the assault at the Parisian Kosher supermarket back in January. Can we expect everyone to be exceptional in these circumstances? Perhaps its transforming the global interconnected mourning and outrage into meaningful action that would be a more reasonable expectation. Its all of us acting together in a small way that makes the bigger difference, which makes the message highlighted in last week’s Song of the Week even more pertinent. In light of events since it is probably worth reviewing.

 

Sidi Touré – Maïmouna

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Petit Metier

They did it again. With barn-storming 5-star performances like the one at KOKO in Camden, north London last week, Songhoy Blues are amassing quite a following in the UK. Previous gigs have seen decent crowds and Glastonbury, though special, does benefit from a lot of ‘passing trade’. KOKO felt a bit different. A capacity sell-out (1,410) it surely wasn’t possible the crowd was entirely made up of retired international development workers and SOAS students. Songhoy Blues appeared to have crossed a void rarely managed by ‘world’ musicians to genuine mass appeal. Their charm, talent and compelling story has enchanted UK audiences. This performance, for me, was their best yet. The charged mood of the crowd was beyond that usual pre-performance expectation. They were excited and knew what was coming.

The focus this week is on the song ‘Petit Metier’ which literally translates from French as ‘small occuption/job’. The band use the phrase here to speak about the resisilence of ordinary Malian people. As the lyrics suggest “each one does his little job” in their own way. Its an emotive song, not the whirring and thumping pleasures found in the rest of their set, but instead it produced a humbling, reflective tone for a few minutes. The band are far from oblivious to the fact they are beyond mere witnesses to Mali’s troubles of recent years, but this song speaks to what they have seen. The glowing embers of their country, battling on.

Perhaps what the band are only just comphreneding the “little job” they are doing for their country. To stoke these flames. As are we, I suppose in supporting, witnessing, and enjoying their music. The nod to Ali Farka Toure by performing ‘Ai Du’ was a nod to history; one that tried to be erased a few years previously. Above all, Songhoy Blues’s current success of bringing in more people is resulting in more encouragement and endorsement for the decisions they made to rage against exile. The fight for basic freedoms is far from over in Mali and music a constant source of inspiration. As a crowd we willing return the favour; telling them that we’ve got their back. A collective sense of pride in the achievements of these four young Malian men.

The roar at the end of the gig was the usual request for more. A lot more. With a new album just around the corner and a gig at the Roundhouse in May with special guest Fatoumata Diawara there is plenty more to come.

 

Songhoy Blues – Petit Metier

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ballaké Sissoko – Badjourou

People of Oxford! If there are any of you out there with a Socials - Oxford (1)spare evening tonight then head on to the Phoenix Picturehouse at 6pm for your opportunity to see ‘They Will Have to Kill Us First‘ the film about Mali’s fearless, insatiable musicians that won’t give up their country without a fight. With an original score, its a must see for any Malian music lover. Not to be missed.

For those not in and around Oxford do not fret. As well as a list of other screenings there are other things to keep your senses entertained. On the Hub we are particularly fond of pleasing your ears and as well as this stunning piece of music from kora-mastermind Ballaké Sissoko you could also turn your attention to the latest instalment of Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ on the Empire of Mali – a fascinating and wholly under-appreciated period of history. Mali’s Empire at its pinnacle was as big as southern Europe and according to the show was the biggest African empire ever.

If you don’t have 45 minutes spare to listen to the show now UK listeners can download the conversation to listen to later or whilst out and about. Due to its relative obscurity as a historical topic, the first task of the gathered academics is to get the listener up to speed with the scale and majesty of this Empire – no easy task. For some details there is simply no comparison with any other point in history. The language makes it impossible to imagine anything other than gleaming stacks of gold, great armies, riches in textiles, architecture and jewellery. And not just these material goods, but also the authority of grandeur in science, the arts and religion; all oozing control and command for the Empire’s ruling class to wield. The strumming and plucking of Sissoko in ‘Badjourou’ harks to a medieval royal court. The steady march, the flowing and insatiable beauty. Untold luxury in the desert – for 2000km from the Atlantic to the heart of Africa. For 400 years.

 

Ballaké Sissoko – Badjourou

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Fatoumata Diawara & Amine Bouhafa – Fasso

Since the release of the film ‘They Will Have to Kill Us First” I have come to realise that another great film had managed to be released earlier this year with as much as a blink from the Hub. The film ‘Timbuktu‘ is an ‘insightful drama about a family and a city shattered by bigotry and violence‘. It was remarkably well received world-wide, even nominated for an Oscar in February this year. No, not for Best Original Score but instead for Best Foreign Language Film.

The combined work between Diawara and Tunisian composer Bouhafa has produced an inspiring title song. It is true to the message of the film that the soaring-strength of Diawara’s voice is used as its central musical theme. To quote Peter Bradshaw’s review:

“Islamist zealots are shown shooting gazelles with AK-47s – a powerful image of predatory crassness to which the film ultimately circles back – and also destroying masks and statues, including a statue of a fertility goddess. They are stamping on harmless pleasures like music and football, and throwing themselves with cold relish into lashings and stonings for adultery. The suppression and control of women is shown as a key part of this new order: an unending hate campaign that is both an ideological procedure and a symptom of their own unhappiness and self-hate.”

The film shows the defiance of Mali’s society in other ways; a particular favourite is a scene of men continuing a game of football, with no ball, through collective mime. In a similar way, director Abderrahmane Sissako uses the recurring joy of Diawara’s vocals to raise a musical objection to the dire oppression of women and the arts in Mali.

 

Fatoumata  Diawara & Amine Bouhafa – Fasso

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

 

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