Tag Archives: cuba

AfroCubism – Benséma : Mali Song of the Week

Whatever the political and economic consequences of President Obama’s trip to Cuba this week, we’ve learnt a bit about him and the country he visited. We can also see that a whole lot hasn’t changed. Another thing that has evidentially remained unchanged – during that 20th Century “constant” of the Cold War conflict between the US and Cuba – is that the Caribbean nation remains enamoured, at every turn, with music. Scenes from a Major League Baseball exhibition game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays held yesterday morning show jubilation in the crowds whenever the band started up – which appeared to be every other minute. Rapturous and genuine applause even bloomed at the final notes of the Star Spangled Banner. Ahead of the game President Obama penned a short article explaining the significance and purpose of the match:

“That’s what this visit is about: remembering what we share, reflecting upon the barriers we’ve broken.”

This is of course must be framed as a uniquely American reflection on Cuba. Other countries, particular those in Africa, have not endorsed the isolationist policies of the US and remember different struggles. On the contrary Cuba has a rich history of cooperation in Africa where they attacked barriers from the same side. Nelson Mandela famously thanked Castro and the Cuban people for the “selfless” support received for the anti-apartheid movement. In many ways its was the “critical” intervention in the gradual and successful defeat of apartheid. Apartheid itself means  “the state of being apart” when translated from Afrikaans. To be anti-apartheid is to show a willingness to come together. In this case it was for the advancement of the rights and liberties of people from the other side of the world.

It is a difficult truth for the US to digest, no less for Noble Peace Prize winner Obama. In an incredible exchange that just about everybody should watch, Mandela during his visit to the US in 1990 was challenged by Ken Adelman from the Institute of Contemporary Studies for his praise of the human rights advocacy of Gaddafi, Arafat and Castro. In his response, Mandela alludes to the comparatively lack of support the US government ever showed the ANC, which barely extended beyond rhetoric, in its fight for human rights in South Africa. With his ‘normalising’ speeches and actions in Cuba over the last few days Obama is trying to work his magic on a particularly prickly legacy of his predecessors; that all too often American diplomacy has failed to bring the world together. Utilising sport to correct this is not a new Cold War trick and indeed its going to take a whole lot of ballgames to convince some commentators that the US’s actions against Cuba ought to be laid to rest.

Sport and culture facilitates all sorts of diplomatic relations, though not always positive I hasten to add. This is no different in Mali. Its relations with South Africa for example have been nurtured through two recent projects: 1) the crucial assistance Mali received from South Africa when its ability to host the African Cup of Nations in 2002 looked in doubt and 2) the on-going South African-led Timbuktu manuscript restoration and preservation project. With Cuba, Mali shares its music. Historically, Mali had some Cold War ties with Cuba, but over the last century its music has bound its people together more closely – even if many of them may not have known it.

Sadly, in researching this article I couldn’t find direct evidence of Malian and Cuban official relations being nurtured though musical connections, though I’m sure I would eventually. In a visit to the country last year, it is reported that (the source is from the Cuban Communist Party) President of the National Assembly of Mali, Issaka Sidibé, “thanked Cuban authorities for their cooperation with his country in various spheres, including health, sport and education”. Advancing cultural exchange was high on the agenda also. The musical harmony between the two countries is captured in this week’s Song of The Week. It hints at that unquantifiable, allusive and often dismissed quality, the very existence of it and its transformative powers Obama is banking will take hold in Cuba. Like sport music has a common language. A set of rules recognised nearly everywhere. Toumani Diabate – who features in this week’s SOTW – explained how during the AfroCubism project the various musicians from Mali, Cuba and elsewhere:

“…cannot even speak together on stage…music has created its own language. It’s the music message, and I think the message is true to the audiences [and] to the world also at the same time.”

It provides hope that separated peoples – by the Straights of Florida or the Atlantic Ocean, by education or simply by the passage of time – can find common intrinsically human pursuits to strip away the polluting effects of titles, labels, ignorance and othering. In its place there is always a chance for peace, happiness and cooperation. But just a chance.

 

AfroCubism – Benséma

 

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.

Djelimady Tounkara – Fanta Bourama: Mali Song of the Week

Song Of The Week? On a Friday?!

Yes – apologies for the delay. But trust me, this one is worth the wait. Boggled that Tounkara’s acoustic-guitar spectacular hadn’t been a SOTW already, it was time to set the record straight. It is equally astonishing that a man of such accolade has only been plucked out once to provide our weekly musical highlight.

All of that changes today with ‘Fanta Bourama’, the opening track of both his 2011 album ‘Solon Kono‘ and the highly enjoyable complication disc ‘The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends‘. The song’s opening realises a bridge between Morocco and Spain – a structure which in engineering terms remains a fantasy yet is a long-time cultural reality. Each pluck of a string strips down to that quintessential Mediterranean sound, fusing two continents together in that ever-rolling exchange initiated by the Berbers with their invasion of Spain nearly 1300 years ago.

Tounkara, a member of Mali’s prestigious and ground-breaking Rail Band, has added his own magic to the mix. The Rail Band exemplified the West African 1970s affinity for Iberian, Cuban and Latin music. Tounkara’s supreme talent with an acoustic guitar made him the best equipped to delve deep into this world and allowed him to emerge with the most exquisite results. It was a great shame then that he was unable to take up his invitation to join the gathering musical grandmasters in Cuba in that super-group which was to become the Buena Vista Social Club.

Not that he needed it. So busy collaborating, inventing and performing was Tounkara he only got round to producing his first studio album in 2001, producing several others since. With ‘oversight’ being the surprise theme of the week, each of these gifts to the world will be meticulously combed from now on. You can be sure to hear some more of his gems before long.

 

Djemilady Tounkara – Fanta Bourama

 

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

AfroCubism – Guantanamera

What better way to enjoy this fine weather Britain is having than introducing a tropical blend to your weekly dose of Malian mastery? For long-standing followers of the Hub you’ll know that there is no better place to find this than in the glorious sounds of Cuba.It is perhaps also topical, as well as tropical, as Cuban-US relations thaw considerably this week.

Guantanamera is the quintessential and Cuba’s ‘most patriotic’ song; proliferating throughout Cuban society owing to the way lends itself to improvisation. As Jose Feliciano explains before his own live rendition it is similar to skiffle jazz music in the US and UK, with many variants recognised as Guantanamera, translated as “The Girl from Guantanamo”. Remarkably, the song has also been described as ‘a social newspaper‘ – used as “a popular vehicle  for romantic, patriotic, humorous, or social commentary”. The same power of Malian music has been long appreciated by the Hub, and perhaps this shared philosophy and functionality in the two country’s music is another explanation for why they sound so glorious when merged together.

The album AfroCubism is the younger sibling of the highly successful Buena Vista Social Club. AfroCubism actually represents more closely the idea for the original album, but an infamous story involving problematic visas and delayed post meant the the Malian musicians could not attend. So its been a long time coming and Guantanamera sits as the final track 0n this masterpiece of an album. Fittingly, the song focuses purely on the string instruments from both countries, which is arguably the most important aspect of their respective national music compositions. In this version the song, the kora and guitar happily call and response, replacing the lyrics that would usually improvise along the top of the very familiar Cuban rhythm. A sign of mutual respect and a shared sense of class, grace and good fun.

 

AfroCubism – Guantanamera

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Rail Band ft. Magan Ganessy – Kibaru

This week’s song comes from the legendary Malian super-group the Rail Band. One of the most popular acts in Malian musical history, the Rail Band rode the rising wave of African music’s mid-20th Century obsession with Latin – and especially Cuban – influences. According to the Band’s Wikipedia page this trend started in the Congo in the 1940s, but did not emerge in West Africa till later. This made the Rail Band one of the pioneers of Afro-Latin fusion in Mali. It is a musical genre which is having something of a renaissance in Europe and America, with 60s and 70s African funk being frequently developed by DJs into hip-hop and house sets.

To our knowledge, three of the Rail Band’s previous members have been present in the Song of the Week already, Salif Keita being the most famous of them. He left to join the rival Ambassadeurs group early in the project’s timeline however. Luckily, superb guitarist and Rail Band legend Djelimady Tounkara joined before Salif Keita departed, and they were able to share some industrious time together. Nainy Diabaté, another enormously popular Malian musician, also developed her career with the band.

This week we have one direct from the group proper that certainly shows off its Latin influences extensively. Some outstanding guitar work in the mid-section too. The Latin aspect is fitting in light of the close of an truly excellent World Cup Finals in Brazil last weekend. Enjoy.

Rail Band ft. Magan Ganessy – Kibaru

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Balla Tounkara – Le Monde est Fou

Happy New Year!

After a short, festive break the ‘Track of the Week’ is back with a Malian-Cuban collaboration from Balla Tounkara. Tounkara is a lesser-known kora player and singer but his skills are outstanding.

A contributor to Abijan.net has this to say about the young griot “La musique de Balla représente le meilleur de la tradition et de l`innovation – une harmonie fluide du vieux et du nouveau monde/Balla’s music represents the best of tradition and innovation – a fluid harmony of old and new world. ” It is not a surprise that his music, like many other Malian’s, blends brilliantly with that of Cuba – a country that also benefits culturally, in its own unique way, from its mesh of old and new world culture.

“With Kora it is possible to play all the music in the world” says Balla. “My dream is to integrate the kora in all my experiences, as well as the culture of Mali in modern styles.”

‘Le Monde est Fou’ is an excellent realisation of that dream.

Balla Tounkara – Le Monde est Fou