Tag Archives: albarn

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba – Ladon (Live at the Royal Albert Hall)

Bassekou Kouyaté returns to the Hub again, this time with a live performance of the song ‘Ladon’ at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Its a great clip showing many of Mali’s traditional instruments and how they all work together. The density and layers to Kouyaté’s music is somewhat of a trademark. As is his band’s epic improvised sections. The studio/album version of ‘Ladon’ clocks in at 5 minutes 31 seconds. The live version? Almost twice that length. Another great feature, and perhaps a reflection of Bassekou’s generous and warm personality, is that every instrument gets a go in the lime-light. A particular highlight is the high-pitched, underarm Tama drum (or N’Tama, not to be confused with Tama drums). Its known as the “talking drum”  – presumably a nod to its ability to change pitch and its popular deployment in musician to audience ‘call-and-response’.

Next month, the Royal Albert Hall will be graced by Malian musicians once again as rising stars Songhoy Blues (pictured here chilling out in Bamako a few weeks agao) will be performing alongside Damon Albarn. This video by the BBC captures the two concurrent aspects of Songhoy Blues’s music – youthful, strong and fun but always with dark and troubling imagery. For a band that is busy shooting to stardom they still find it all to easy to recall Mali’s terrible recent past. A very emotional Aliou Toure is shown recalling the early days of the band and what they witnessed together as they fled south to Bamako during the conflict. Amid the violence and the artistic crack-down at the zenith of conflict in late 2012, Aliou describes their music as being “a much better sound than the cries of women”. He talks of a song called ‘Desert Melody’ encouraging the listener to take up the arts “instead of arms” in order to counter the hatred and warmongering. To push back against it and give something for people to rally around.

Above all, to create their music was to do something innately and historically Malian. Their music aims to be unifying and stand up for the values and ideas that were under attack. The ability of these young men to carry the weight of these themes and be articulate ambassadors for their country makes them more than fitting performers in the great Royal Albert Hall – something that Damon Albarn is more than aware of.

Anyway, have a look at the following video to see how its done.


Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba – Ladon (Live at the Royal Albert Hall)

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