Tag Archives: Music

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.

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Passa Quatro

This song comes from the very long awaited second album from cello-kora duo Sissoko and Segal; Musique de Nuit. It does not disappoint as it more than matches the precision and delicacy of their first album Chamber MusicIf you’re in Bristol and are pondering what to do tonight then you could to worse that pop along to St Georges Church Concert Hall to see these two sensational musicians live. A suitably elegant venue for each achingly beautiful chord.

I will save my words for another time – a comprehensive review, forensic in detail, of the whole album has already been published on the Six Degrees Records website and is certainly worth a read. It is fascinating to read of the influences and elements captured in Musique de Nuit and it is pleasing to see Sissoko and Segal avoid the ‘2nd album syndrome’ trap by choosing not to make a futile attempt to recapture the magic of the 1st. Its clear that they are moving things forward.

Whilst you listen, I would recommend watching the gentle, simple video to this song. Take the time out of your day to enjoy the float down stream.

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Passa Quatro

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.

Mylmo – Dakan Tigui : Mali Song of the Week

Confronting defeat can sometimes be a more rewarding process than celebrating victory. Earlier this month a superb African Nations Cup (not to be confused with the African Cup of Nations) came to a painful close for Mali – the Eagles slumped to a 3 – 0 defeat against the DR Congo in the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda. An electric evening for their opponents saw Mali fail to register; stunned by an outrageous opening goal from 19 year old Meshack Elia. This strike inspired a victory celebrated far and wide; even by the DRC’s UN Stabilization Mission MONUSCO. No similar commentary from is Malian sister mission MINUSMA – dubbed the most dangerous peacekeeping mission on Earth – which from its Twitter feed looked to be slightly preoccupied with an armed assault on one of its bases at the time.

The unique brilliance of the African Nations Cup is that only players playing for a club in their country of origin are allowed to participate. The tournament thus rouses a different sense of pride amongst its followers. Rather than celebrating the excellence of those who break into the European leagues – their nation’s ambassadors reunited under their flag – it was instead the time to celebrate the younger, blossoming talents still delighting fans up and down the Sahel. In a situation that was described as “do or die” for these young footballers, their comprehensive defeat could have been a crushing moment in their promising careers and yet another blow to the country’s spirit.

Quite the opposite. The defeated Eagles were welcomed home “as heroes” with crowds, music, and speeches filling the Stade Modibo Keïta in Bamako. It was quite clear that Mali had decided to enjoy itself. Yes, they did not win, but by defying the instinct to succumb to disappointment Malian’s proved to each other that they were capable of more. Anyone can celebrate victory – it takes true pride, dedication and willingness to celebrate defeat. Summarising the mood Malian Football Federation Vice-President Kassoum Coulibaly said:

“You’ve stumbled on the day of the final, but you have not fallen with the flag.You have today written a glorious page of the Malian football. Tomorrow again I’m sure you’ll do more than you did in Kigali.” [translated from French using Google]

The optimism for the future is striking and cannot be an emotion many Malian politicians or public servants has had too much practice in over recent years. It aligns itself with the report last week which detailed how at the Festival Acoustik de Bamako it was Mali’s youth that stole the show and frenzied the crowd.  In front of the welcoming crowds in the Stadium Modibo Keita, the presence of rap artists like Mylmo provoked a growing optimism in Mali’s young people. There is a much darker side to this – with anecdotal stories from Malian musicians performing here in the UK all confirming a frightening trend of drugs and violence becoming an all-too-common past-time for a generation its country failed when it crumbled into war (the terrifying yet excellent Christian Aid & The Joliba Trust report into The Power of Drug Money is a must read in this regard). But rap musicians have offered an alternative voice. As Andy Morgan writes in a gripping and eye-opening article:

“When the country’s government collapsed…it was Mali’s hip hop scene that was the loudest and most relevant voice. At a moment when music’s political value seems like a thing of the past, hip hop in Mali is at the center of a discussion about democracy, globalisation and tradition.”

Indeed it isn’t just the future that Mali’s young people and musical pioneers are illuminating. It is also finding a way to connect a generation with their traditions and locality. Legendary kora player Ballaké Sissoko explains:

“Rap is pretty new as a scene in Mali. I think it’s a good thing in a way. It inspires the youth to make music, which they do in their language. It might sound American in its production but it’s still very local.”

This week’s Song of the Week has been plucked out to showcase that traditional-modern awareness and celebrate the work of Malian rappers. Its not the traditional sounds we are perhaps more used to hearing here, but its the music that is encouraging, inspiring and leading a generation to consider a future that isn’t condemned to defeat.

 

Mylmo – Dakan Tigui

 

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

Yacouba Sissoko Band – Chanson Denko Tapestry

Track 8 from the 2013 album Maison des Jeunes, Yacouba Sissoko and his band bring a feast of percussion to this collaboration compilation. The musicians on the album were a real range of characters. Songhoy Blues did their début European performance in London at the album’s launch party, with producers Damon Albarn and Brian Eno present to help things along. British artists Ghostpoet and Metronomy were also involved not only in the production of the album but in nurturing the talent that were lucky enough to get a foot in the door. It was an important moment for the Malian music industry, but also for the British scene too. Bands like Songhoy Blues have become astonishingly popular in UK hipster circles, along with other West African superstars like Ebo Taylor and Fela Kuti. Rarely can an evening out go by in the bars of East London or Peckham without 1970s Ghanian Funk making an appearance. Well, at least in the places I hang out…

The Sissoko Band track is fairly unconventional for a Malian peice.  It has that familiar mesmerising rhythm, but its the drums that take the lead, with the ngonis yielding to their pace and melodies. Its a dance, perhaps even a duel. They flicker, twist and turn together, endlessly keeping pace. One unknown element is the title; does anyone know what the Chanson Denko Tapestry is?

Yacouba Sissoko Band – Chanson Denko Tapestry

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

Nahawa Doumbia – Sadjo

Today’s marks the first appearance of Wassoulou singer Nahawa Doumbia, joining a prestigious club of singers from the region already to appear on the Hub over the past two years; Oumou Sangare easily being the most famous. Wassoulou singers are strongly associated with traditional Malian music. Ever popular with Mali’s people, it is primarily the domain of women and though traditional, its not the preserve of the conservative. Sangare is anything but conventional and artists like Issa Bagayogo have cleverly deployed their striking, soaring vocals into his chilled-out Afro-electro. An excellent blend. Doumbia pulls off a similarly exceptional mix. With deep, pulsing jazz-keys forging the base of the track, ‘Sajdo’ incorporates the kora and a lyrical, poetic genre of singing.

If fact the whole of the album ‘Diby’ is very experimental and worth a listen. Male chorus, percussion from every era, bafalon jams, jazz bass, rumbling keys, bouncing acoustics, ripping guitar solos and a beautiful range of vocals provided by a dynamic and delightful woman.

 

Nahawa Doumbia – Sadjo

 

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

Ballaké Sissoko – Badjourou

People of Oxford! If there are any of you out there with a Socials - Oxford (1)spare evening tonight then head on to the Phoenix Picturehouse at 6pm for your opportunity to see ‘They Will Have to Kill Us First‘ the film about Mali’s fearless, insatiable musicians that won’t give up their country without a fight. With an original score, its a must see for any Malian music lover. Not to be missed.

For those not in and around Oxford do not fret. As well as a list of other screenings there are other things to keep your senses entertained. On the Hub we are particularly fond of pleasing your ears and as well as this stunning piece of music from kora-mastermind Ballaké Sissoko you could also turn your attention to the latest instalment of Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ on the Empire of Mali – a fascinating and wholly under-appreciated period of history. Mali’s Empire at its pinnacle was as big as southern Europe and according to the show was the biggest African empire ever.

If you don’t have 45 minutes spare to listen to the show now UK listeners can download the conversation to listen to later or whilst out and about. Due to its relative obscurity as a historical topic, the first task of the gathered academics is to get the listener up to speed with the scale and majesty of this Empire – no easy task. For some details there is simply no comparison with any other point in history. The language makes it impossible to imagine anything other than gleaming stacks of gold, great armies, riches in textiles, architecture and jewellery. And not just these material goods, but also the authority of grandeur in science, the arts and religion; all oozing control and command for the Empire’s ruling class to wield. The strumming and plucking of Sissoko in ‘Badjourou’ harks to a medieval royal court. The steady march, the flowing and insatiable beauty. Untold luxury in the desert – for 2000km from the Atlantic to the heart of Africa. For 400 years.

 

Ballaké Sissoko – Badjourou

 

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

Arnaldo Antunes, Edgard Scandurra & Toumani Diabaté – Kaira

Celebrating the collaborations between Malian artists and those around the world is a popular topic here on the Hub. Much has been made of the link between Malian music and that of American blues. Looking into this relationship reveals a dark explanation rooted in the murderous, mass upheaval of millions – entire African tribes and societies – through the slave trade of the European colonial era. Similarly, links with Caribbean nations, Cuba in particular, have been noted through AfroCubism and the 1970s experimentations of the Rail Band.

One continent remains relatively unexplored in this regard by the Hub. In the 315 years between 1500 and 1815 the Portuguese Empire transported 3 million Africans (over half perishing in transit or shortly after) to their Brazilian colony in South America. Inspecting the musical consequences – possibly the least dreadful and most joyous of all the consequences – of this devastating period of human history is long overdue. Enter singer and poet Arnaldo Antunes and rock guitarist Edgard Scandurra; two Brazilians who one day got the invite by Toumani to do a concert with him. This marvellous article by Dave Stelfox charts this coming together:

“The rehearsal was the very first time we had ever met” explains Arnaldo “but when we started to play together [there was] a magical synergy between us. At the end, Toumani said: ‘We need to make a record together – you need to come to Mali.’ Edgar and I already had a plan to work together anyway, so we thought, ‘Why not … we can just include Toumani in that project, too.’ Soon after we made that decision we were all in Bamako making the album.”

A story we’ve heard countless times before – Malian musicians would probably make the best diplomats in the world. They have a phenomenal track-record for seamless integration into other cultures through projects, ‘supergroups’, albums, recordings, live performances, improvisations and the rest. Stelfox presses on for an explanation for all this and finds that Brazil also has a wonderful philosophy, borne out of strife and necessity of its history, that has set its musical culture in a similar position to that of Mali. Brazilian music is wholly comfortable, if not at its best, when it is in the process of absorbing, exploring and championing another. Stelfox points to the works of Brazil’s great poet Oswald de Andrade who in 1928:

“…wrote a short text asserting that Brazil’s greatest weapon in the battle against post-colonial European dominance was antropofagia, its ability to “cannibalise” diverse influences into “one participating consciousness”.”

Remarkable words and a beautiful sentiment. And its true. It is a reflection of the indomitable pride shown in all of history’s great resistance movements and its must be a proud tradition for Antunes and Scandurra to uphold. This brings us neatly onto this week’s Song. This is the most ‘Malian’ feeling track of the project; a Portuguese lyric-d, “radically altered“, re-work of a Diabaté song by the same name. It’s delightful, “charming” and exhibits some splendid balafon work, as well as mixed Brazilian-Malian vocals – the soaring, wailing voice of Safiatou Diabaté (the wife of Toumani’s younger brother Mamadou) combining with the husky, singer-songwriter sounds of Arnaldo Antunes.

 

 

Arnaldo Antunes, Edgard Scandurra & Toumani Diabaté – Kaira

 

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

Amkoullel – Sinin

Last night at the Picturehouse Central in London, the film They Will Have to Kill Us First screened for the first time to a European audience. The film charts the lives of different Malian musicians through the carnage of extremist Islamic militant takeover of the northern half of their country – banning music in the process. The film’s launch was – naturally – full of emotion, as people from all over the world came together to listen to the musicians stories of terror, loss and censorship in a stunning documentary. The film begins back in 2012 and plunges the viewer straight into violent and chaotic scenes. It is a chilling reminder of just how bad it got. The band Songhoy Blues’ struggle and rise to fame form the “backbone”(to quote director Johanna Schwartz) of the film. Young, bright and charasmatic, the band’s members are articulate and insightful about the conflict and its rolling implications. They are also staggeringly talented and their original music, along with fresh contributions from the likes of Vieux Farka Toure and rap-star Amkoullel, come together it a must-have film soundtrack which it was a relief to hear will be released on CD in its own right next year.

What really makes this film special is its longetivity. Relatively speaking, the documentary’s focus is quite narrow – a handful of Malian’s followed over a 3 year period. It allows for the viewer to get to know the characters and appreciate just how important music is to their identity and sense of well-being. Each character at some point during the film tells of how they are unable to sing, play or write their music due to dibilitating sadness. Music is the rallying point and with inspiration performances the artists breathe life into war-torn communities. The film therefore hammers-home the point that music is crucial to Mali’s peace and security and holds the key to unlocking it’s youth’s potential – a youth that is frighteningly close to being wasted. Worse still, Aliou – Songhoy Blues’ lead singer – warns that this disenfrancised youth, brought up in anarchic surroundings, are the next conflict waiting to happen.

Music engages people and as another character in the film explained it “teaches morality”. That’s why last night, at the Premier, the launch of the Music in Exile Fund was the most welcome news of the night. The Fund will “contribute towards Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship, a year-long programme to support those facing censorship.” The film’s magic just couldn’t be abated, and has spilled pleasingly into supporting a very worthy cause. Hopefully with this support, the Index on Censorship will be in an even greater position to support potential stars of the future in Mali and across the world. Please consider donating to the fund by following the links to the They Will Have to Kill Us First website.

The film will be showing on screens across the UK from next week. For tickets and upcoming screenings of They Will Have to Kill Us First click here.

 

Amkoullel – Sinin

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

Tinariwen – Iswegh Attay

Apologies for a brief one this week – life getting in the way of a fully-developed Wednesday instalment. However, never wanting to leave you without the musical charms of Mali on a mid-week morning, here it is.

Feels sad to not do this song justice, however this does give us the opportunity to bring to your attention They Will Have to Kill Us First – “a feature-length documentary following musicians in Mali in the wake of a jihadist takeover and subsequent banning of music.”

If this sounds like your kind thing (how could it not?) then I can highly recommend the website (http://www.theywillhavetokillusfirst.com/) which also details screenings times and locations happening across the UK.

See you there!

 

Tinariwen – Iswegh Attay

 

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

Amadou & Mariam feat. Santigold – Dougou Badia

This week sees the return of Amadou and Mariam to the Hub, after they returned to the UK earlier this summer as a part of their European festival tour. Playing at Boomtown Festival in August, the Financial Times – of all places – put together a fantastic review of their set. As Toumani and Sidiki a couple of weekends ago, Amadou and Mariam left their audience “enchanted” – a wholly appopriate word to describe the effects of mesmerising guitar riffs and those charateristically “hypnotic rhythms”.

The diversity of Amadou and Mariam’s music is possibility their greatest defining feature. Honigmann, the Financial Times reviewer, picks up on this too; spotting elements of reggae, rock,  and Pink Floyd-y ‘space rock’ in their set. The deployment of drumming, keys, vocals, guitars, even their stage presence and choreography are always being tinkered, integrated added to the party. For example, this week’s Song of the Week features American singer Santigold – herself being cited as having everyone from M.I.A to Fela Kuti as influences. Sitting perfectly on top of a heavier-than-usual guitar track they make it work. Just like magic.

Another wonderful part of what makes Amadou and Mariam is their keen sence of moral and political leadership. Their music does not stand alone from the vibrant society they stirred from. The day after their stupendous Boomtown Concert their Facebook page posted another set of photos in their #SHAREHUMANITY campaign – bringing the good work of humaniatarians to their fans attention. This leadership and sense of societal responsibility is found through all Malian music and is just another reason we find it so special.

 

 

Amadou & Mariam feat. Santigold – Dougou Badia

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.