Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Amkoullel – Kalan

This week’s track comes from hip-hop rap innovator Amkoullel. He’s been musically active since 1993, so he is no new comer. In fact, he has been quite the pioneer during the last two decades where hip-hop’s popularity in Mali has boomed. With a “strong social commitment” Amkoullel has developed “an original style” by mixing traditional instruments (ngoni  kora and djembe) into his work to complement his strong African – and Malian – identity.

This identity was strongly displayed during the early days of the disability across the Middle-East and North Africa that begun in December 2010. In 2013, Amkoullel performed in the birthplace of hip-hop at an event in New York alongside other prominent Middle-Eastern and North African rappers. He impressed not only musically but also in providing an alternative wisdom to the incumbent that has always been a quintessential trait of hip-hop. He wrote a song called ‘SOS’ 8 months before the eventual coup d’etat. Like many Malian musicians writing during this time it was an attempt to capture the nation’s mood and articulate the signs of trouble it to the political class.

Interesting, rap in this context is constructive, collaborative and used to bring people together for peace. In Britain, at least till very recently, hip hop has usually been associated with crime, gangs and delinquent youths. Even in more sophisticated terms it is described as espousing a ‘rampant materialism’ and encouraging a widespread desire to “make more money and live flashier than anyone else”, as stated by Ekow Eshun, director of the Institute for Contemporary Arts. In Africa and the Middle-East it has the power to mean something very different.

Though little information is available about his upbringing his Wikipedia page states that he studied law whilst he continued to pursue his music career. A great achievement in itself but it does hint that Amkoullel is a member of a growing group of middle-class Malian rappers, which does more or less mirror a global trend in the changing complexion of the music genre. The global movement that is hip-hop music has been bolstered and sped along by the rise of the internet. Accordingly, Amkoullel has a twitter account and a well-developed Soundcloud page.

Amkoullel – Kalan

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