Tag Archives: Bamako

Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra – Mali Sadio : Mali Song of the Week

Quite a tragic choice of song considering this week’s subject matter. The music itself is triumphant, relentless – a Malian griot’s response to “We Will Rock You” but with Freddie Mercury’s half-rap substituted for cascading, whirling, soaring kora, spellbinding vocals with that stadium-thumping beat. Triumphant is definitely the spirit of today as the music world celebrates the symbolic importance and the outright splendour of Bamako’s first major international music festival since le crise in 2012 – the Festival Acoustik de Bamako.

But why tragic? Well that lies in the tale of ‘Mali Sadio’, an old Malian story passed down generations through oral traditions. It details the friendship (borderlind love affair, in some versions) between a woman and a hippopotamus. A hunter, becoming infatuated with the woman, kills her friend the hippo, but – unsurprisingly – finds her not more amiable than before. Disastrously for the woman’s village, it turns out that the hippo was doing a very good job of keeping the dangers of the natural world away – a security now lost and terror ensues. The moral of the story: “the selfish actions of a single person bring pain and hardship on many others“.

Bamako knows plenty about that. So perhaps the story is fitting – a celebration, a mass outpouring of delight between peoples when they find music, their “guardian hippo” (I am sure that’s a thing), alive and well. In fact, its full of youth and life with rap stars and local talent . The festival was masterminded by Toumani Diabaté, organised by Fatoumata Sow, and championed by Culture Minister N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo. Minister Diallo explains that Mali’s music is its chief export its “our oil”. It is also more than that its the best channel Mali has open to the world to say “hey, we’re here. We are still living”. Its a brave shout with an official State of Emergency enduring. Anyone who is anyone in Malian music seemed to have been there. Associated musicians and collaborators too – like Derek Gripper, Tony Allan,  and Damon Albarn – ‘defied terrorism threats‘ to be there, the former using his classical guitar skills to emulate in tribute to Diabaté’s exceptional kora. Of course, Toumani Diabaté is top of the pile and thus unemulatable – if you want to bathe in his majesty you have to go to the man himself, hence this week’s choice. A choice that certainly wants to bring attention to Diabaté’s lesser known work with his Symmetric Orchestra who headlined the Festival’s Friday line-up.

The people of Bamako will be delighted to have the State of Emergency swapped for a state of euphoria – albeit temporarily. The sense of normality with people out in the streets, enjoying the music, with international stars and media coming and going safely is far more significant. Bamako and the world has obviously enjoyed the success of the occasion. But what of the rest of Mali? Inclusiveness was emphasised in the event’s organisation – artists from the north were there but none of them Toureg, apparently. This suggests that despite the best efforts of  Mali’s heroes, its people, its government, and the world – the country remains fractured, inaccessible and frayed. Not helplessly, but simply still. 

The festival has to be taken for what it is. A great leap forward. An oasis in an conflict that still has no end in sight. An expression of unity, peace and communal joy counter to those selfish acts that have brought so much pain and hardship to ordinary people all over Mali.



Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra – Mali Sadio


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

Mariam Koné – In session with Spot on Mali Music

‘In session’ in this context refers to the idyllic scene of any Malian music recording: acoustically, in the shade of a tree in a quiet corner of Bamako. Simple surroundings, perfect for “floating guitar lines” as choreographed by Spot on Mali Music – a non-for-profit organisation charged with sharing vibrant, up-and-coming Malian musicians with the world (with help from the Danish Centre for Culture and Development). Its Facebook page is regularly updated with information and clips of new Malian artists, with links to recent tour appearances too.

This week’s featured artist is one of these “rising stars”. In the video below, playing her guitar in the shade of a tree, is Mariam Koné. Koné is a beautiful vocalist and talented musician who is from the city of Kati, the largest town of the Koulikoro Region, which is situated a mere 15km north of Mali’s capital. Koné’s rise to fame has seen her release an album and singles complete with professionally orchestrated music videos. Spot on Mali Music’s Facebook commentary notes her increasing popularity in Europe. However, the song chosen for this week – that is presented to the world untitled – emphasises how music is the life-blood of the country. Koné sits, temporarily stripped of her growing stardom, and is framed as ordinary yet exceptional , simple and beautiful – all at once.

Just another day in Bamako, I guess.

Mariam Koné – In  session with Spot on Mali Music