Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba – Jama ko

Bassekou Kouyate is the one of the best and indeed the most famous ngoni player of his generation. Other greats include Cheick Hamala Diabaté and Issa Bagayogo, all following on from the legendary, Malian “national treasure”, Bazoumana Sissoko who was blind from the moment he was born. Sissoko was from the Ségou region of Central Mali and also happens to be Bassekou Kouyate’s grandfather.

“Ngoni ba” is the name of Kouyate’s band. The ngoni itself has many varieties but is essentially a banjo-like stringed instrument with a body and neck made of wood or calabash and a dried animal skin stretched over its body. Kouyate’s international identity has become synonymous with that his of the ngoni so much so that his Wikipedia page and the page of the instrument use the same photograph.  The ngoni is a historic instrument going back around – or at least – 800 years.

Kouyate is a griot – a ‘oral historian/musician’ as described in last week’s “Track of the Week”. His fame is appreciated by many as being a vital boost to the ngoni musical tradition – through which much history and knowledge is carried – which was at a risk of dying out. Also helping the cause are two of Kouyate’s sons who play alongside their mother and father in Ngoni ba.

Again, through the on-going crisis, he has been a welcome boost to the cultural values of Mali. This week’s track “Jama ko” is the title track of his 2013 album. On the inside cover Bassekou explains:

“Jama ko means ‘a great meeting of people’: you may be rich or poor, Muslim or Christian, let’s get together and enjoy ourselves. Jama ko, c’est pour tout le monde…There are over 90% Muslims in Mali, but our form of Islam here has nothing to do with a radical form of Sharia: that is not our culture. We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali.”

In response, Kouyate ensures that Mali’s heart is going nowhere. Take a look at the music video for “Jama ko” – it is exactly what it says it will be. The YouTube poster states that the video is “a cry for tollerance [sic] and peace. Bassekou invited the Christian community, Muslims, Touareg friends like Manny Ansar (head of the festival au desert), the tailor from next door and many other people to celebrate the open spirit of Mali. Bassekou launched the video on TV in Bamako on Africable and ORTM to spread the message.”

In addition to the above, or perhaps as a result, it is a fantastic party track too.

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba – Jama ko

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