Tag Archives: Festival Au Desert

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Boubcar Traoré – Benidiagnamogo

Back in 2003, Robert Plant – best known for his incredible voice as lead singer for Led Zeppelin – made a journey to the Malian Sahara to perform at the Festival Au Desert. Plant has travelled and experimented with all kinds of world music during his 30-plus year career as a solo artist. Working with a great range of American, European and African artists, Plant has refused to wallow in former glories and has instead kicked on, showing great respect and humility for his own achievements is reference to music the world over. His trip to Mali and his respect of the country since appear to fit neatly into this world view. Reflecting on his trip, he said it was;

“….a journey that could only reinforce the power and the great gift of music across and between cultures. Sharing outside of language. A world where, for awhile at least, borders, boundaries and barriers once again fell away…as it was long ago.”

Whilst he was on there Robert Plant made video recordings of everywhere he went, sometimes deferring camera-pointing responsibilities to his son Logan. The videos were in no way shot in a egotistical way as you may expect from a rock n’ roll front man. In fact, they are the complete opposite. He released the videos as a mini-series where in the opening episode Plant himself only really features once, and even then he can only be seen unflatteringly asleep on a plane. The series is instead an observation on Malian life. The cities, the journeys, the dunes, the people and of course, the music. Plant’s own affinity with blues and country must have set his mind whirring as he indulged into the country’s musical life blood and his artistry allowed him to capture and compose it exquisitely.

So this week’s song is a tip of the hat to Mr Plant who so respectfully and completely portrays Malian society with him – with all his musical prowess – playing the character of the novice and humble observer. The opening sequence of the video features Boubcar Traoré’s song Benidiagnamogo. A great, if not strikingly familiar choice for Plant – does anyone else hear Bron-Yr-Aur?

 

Boubcar Traoré – Benidiagnamogo

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Khaira Arby – Cinquantenaire (live) 

Khaira Arby’s fame, adulation amongst fellow Malians and talent may be exceptional, but her story of the last 5 years is depressingly common. In this excellent short film produced for the Guardian Arby’s story is put forward to illustrate what was happening for all musicians in Mali and to music in the country.

In one part of the film, Arby explains how, like everyone else, her music career before coup was very stable. She had freedom to travel, to perform where and how she liked. The coup and subsequent conflict in the north caused this freedom to collapse. Suddenly, Malians were having their instruments stripped from them and destroyed. Even a musical mobile phone ring tone could lead to serious punishment. When Mali’s music loving society came under attack and it began to unravel, Arby found that she could no sing longer as her throat was “too full of sobs”. In between sobs and speechlessness over the dire situation in Mali, Khaira was able to pen songs about the conflict and the French intervention.

Later she was once again left unable to speak after Manny Ansar – director of the legendary Festival au Desert – gave her the news in 2013 all Malian music lovers had been dreading; that the festival, scheduled for early 2014, would again be postponed, due to the threat of war.  Today’s Song of the Week has been chosen to emphasise this continued source of misery by drawing attention to how much the Festival means in Malian society. Here, we pay homage to Kharia Arby’s magnificent contribution to the Festival and all it means today. A browse through YouTube reveals quite a library of her performances there over the years. This one in particular because it represents a milestone: 50 years of independence. This week, a preliminary, UN brokered, peace deal was signed in an effort to bring long-term stability to northern Mali. We have been here before and it is worth asking why it has taken 2 years to get to this point. Lets at least hope for the best: that we can look back in 50 years at this agreement as a positive, if not significant, turning point away from an ugly episode in Malian history.

 

 

Khaira Arby – Cinquantenaire (live)

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Afel Bocoum – Jaman Moro

Afel Bocoum is an intelligent man. You only need to read a few lines of his interview with Belgian music magazine RifRaf or listen to a few minutes of one of his songs to realise this. In the interview with the magazine, Bocoum speaks eloquently and informatively on a range of subjects including the rights of Malian minority groups, youth culture, identity, post-colonial cultural relations between Africa and Europe and America and, of course, his own approach to music.

Curiously, Bocoum’s profession is as an Agricultural Advisor. Being from Niafunké (a town situated in the southern most part of the vast desert Timbouctou Region where temperatures frequently exceed 50’C) it is not immediately obvious what use an agricultural advisor would have. However the area surrounding the Niger River, which includes Niafunké and Timbuktu, is important farming land. Malian Minister for Culture N’Diaye Ramatoulaye Diallo explains:

“When people think of Timbuktu they think desert, they don’t think about agriculture at all, but it will be one of the main projects there.”

The project Diallo is referring to is the plan to open a £50 million university in Timbuktu. A key feature of the university’s work will be the improvement of the region’s existing irrigation program and other agricultural practices. Amongst other research focuses will be renewable energy and Saharan literature – a subject that is anticipating a great boost once the city’s treasured manuscripts have been returned to their library.

Diallo also claims that the university is central to the rejuvenation of Timbuktu in general. Even before the recent conflict there, Timbuktu’s economy was a shadow of its former self. Now the situation is even more desperate. Fortunately a dedicated group of ‘diverse stakeholders’ called The Timbuktu Resistance has been focusing on a strategy “to promote reconciliation and sustainable development in Mali through a revival of its culture and heritage, and examine broader implications for post-conflict reconstruction and for understanding Islam in its global diversity.” In this case the diplomatic and political currency that Mali gains through the international popularity of its music in particular is clear. Music is important to Mali’s internal politics too.  For example, the goal of returning the ‘Festival au Desert‘ to its home in Mali’s north (which instead will once again be staged ‘In Exile’ in early 2015) could have many potential benefits for the region. In addition to the economic benefits of tourism, the Festival is also symbolic and promotes “cultural diversity, peace, tolerance and social cohesion amongst the peoples of the Sahel and Sahara.” There is also a plan to share these lessons in cultural diversity worldwide by making the sights, sounds and knowledge of Timbuktu available online through Google maps, street-view and scholar.

If the money for this project materialises  it could be the turning point for the long-neglected ‘City of Gold’.

 

 

Afel Bocoum – Jaman Moro