Tag Archives: hip hop

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

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

SMOD – Les Dirigeants Africains

SMOD is a music group formed in 2000. The name SMOD is an acronym of the first letters of the names of the founding band members, however the ‘M’ – for Mouzy – left to pursue a music career in Europe shortly after the band was founded. They all remain close friends.

SMOD is made up of three hip-hop inspired young Malian MCs. ‘S’ – for Sam – is the son of hit double act Amadou and Mariam. Through Sam’s parents SMOD met the highly successful Spanish/French singer Manu Chao and have since created several works with him. Through their association with him and other Malian artists they have quickly gained recognition. A leap into the spot light for SMOD came when they performed in both the Opening and Closing ceremonies for the 2002 African Cup of Nations football tournament that was hosted in Mali.

Their musical style is typical of young African rappers. They represent a break from the traditional perception of what Malian music is as well as what hip-hop is about. Below are Andy Morgan’s comments following an interview with the group:

“No mincing words or metaphors. No ancient musical traditions that cosy up to power. No decadent ghetto fabulous fantasies. None of that. Just plain rhyming about the simple truth that everyone can see out of his or her window.”

Andy’s article chart’s their history very well. It also points out that African rap in general has taken up hip-hop’s rebellious cause in is own way, which is expressed elegantly by SMOD. Even before the recent political crisis and coup SMOD were vocalising their fears surrounding Malian unity. Throughout the crisis they have worked “more than ever” for hope and unity. They express a sense of responsibility that artists have to raise funds – particularly abroad – to help support efforts at home.

This week’s track is an example at one of their more negative appraisals; this time of the African leadership. The song is not angry though. More disappointed, tired and resigned. It also has a fairly well put together music video – an increasingly vital part of the upcoming generation’s strategy for global recognition.

 

SMOD – Les Dirigeants Africains

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Les Sofas de la République – Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia

So far the Mali Track of the Week has been generally selected from a bluesy artist which has achieved particular recognition in the Western world. This week’s entry hopes to shake this up a little.

Hip-hop or Rap music is arguably the most revolutionary and influential addition to the art form to arise in the last 30 years. Its distinctive sound is delivered inseparably to its unique cultural and political perspectives. In the 1990s and 2000s hip-hop became a global change-making powerhouse which has left no stone unturned. Its power as a vehicle for societal change emphasised most strikingly by Jay-Z’s inclusion in Time Magazine’s world-wide list of the 100 most influential people of 2013. Note that unlike in other years where a rapper has been listed under ‘artists’, Jay-Z had broken through, listed under the emphatic title of ‘Titan’ in an article written by the Mayor of New York City.

Rap music has been on the scene in Mali since the 1990s. Unsurprisingly, hip-hop’s strengths in articulating grievance, injustice, marginalisation but also hope, loyalty and determination has found many followers. One example of which is this week’s track from Les Sofas de la République.

Les Sofas get their name from the warriors of Samory Touré – one of Africa’s great king’s who during the 19th century fought for African freedom and fiercely resisted French imperialism. They are a collective of musicians who have a very active and engaged history as shown in this fascinating article. Andy Morgan writes of the group who formed the day after Captain Sanogo’s military coup of March 22nd 2012 in his book Music, Culture & Conflict in Mali:

‘Les Sofas aren’t your classic ‘band’ as such, think of them more as a rap posse, a self-help association, a pressure group, a political party, an educational charity and a think tank, all rolled into one.’

Les Sofas’s song ‘Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia’ (which translates as ‘Leave Us In Peace!’) was also created in reaction to a deeply troubling and violent political development. The song was released following an attack on May 21st 2012 on the Presidential Palace in Bamako by – in Morgan’s words – ‘a mob of protesters stirred up by Sanogo and opposition parties’. Morgan notes the song’s potent lyrics and how Les Sofas use the song to describe their mood, and the mood of many other Malians, following the attack; that all that was precious in their country and that was good about their politics had been lost to a violent and aloof struggle for power:

“Taking up arms Malians, fiercer and fiercer yeaah. Taking up arms and making blood flow yeaah. Making tears flow and making us lose time, bothering us with stupid details…Our relatives are dying up in the north while we try and agree on who will take the tiller.”

Powerful and provocative. Thought-provoking and fearless; doing what hip-hop does best.

 

Les Sofas de la République – Aw Ya to An Ka Lafia