Tag Archives: Music

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Sidiki Diabaté & Djelimady Sissoko – The Sunjata Epic

Over this weekend the Southbank Centre in London held Africa Utopia – three days of music, literature, art, fashion and discussion from the African continent and the diaspora. The festival, in its third year, took over most of the riverside Centre with ticketed concerts, fashion shows, pop-up food outlets, hairdressing, market stalls, seminars and speeches all rounded off with a collaborative musical finale performance orchestrated by drum legend Tony Allen. Is this African utopia Malian musicians featured prominently – notably with father and son duo Sidiki and Toumani Diabaté, but also with Malian-born French hip-hop artist Oxmo who impressed. Baaba Maal of Senegal (though he continually alluded to a pan-African view in mini-speeches throughout) was active and energetic as ever. Damon Albarn characteristically showed no such humility and roamed on his own-accord from instrument to instrument all evening.

Pleasingly, Toumani and Sidiki blew the audience away. The kora proved its versatility and agility its is ability to rouse the crowd on its own, in duet, or with the rest of the jazz/afro-beat ensemble playing along too. This week’s Song of the Week brings things full-circle and celebrate’s the work of Sidiki Diabaté the elder – Toumani’s father. The song refers to Sunjata Keita founder of the Malian Empire in 1235 and it really is epic; rolling in at 30 minutes and 34 seconds. We have written previously about Toumani Diabaté’s appreciation of Malian history and especially his desire to overturn some widely held prejudices about the sophistication of African music, poetry and literature. This weekend he showed his best to an audience that needed little persuasion in taking up his message.

It appears his father “the King of Kora” had the same respect and came up with the idea of bringing this message to the banks of the River Thames.  This week’s song comes from a live performance at the Southbank Centre in 1987 – 28 years before his son and grandson did the same.

 

 

Sidiki Diabaté & Djelimady Sissoko – The Sunjata Epic

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Ali Farka Toure – Hawa Dolo

It’s a quick and a gentle one this week. Ali Farka Toure provides a warm, reassuring acoustic tune that rolls along at that familiar pace that soothes the mind. With all the chaos and emotional upheaval of the last weeks and months it is perhaps more useful to lie back for a moment and take a well earned break – instead of delving further into the relentlessly poor news.

Delightfully and helplessly simple, Hawa Dolo compels the listener into the perfect position to reflect, recharge and pick out the goodness in Mali we all yearn for. It’s all still there. Somewhere. Smothered, breaking out or simply rumbling on.

Particularly mesmeric is the music video. Ali is pictured in a timeless, idyllic Nirvana. One of an endless sunset and an inviting breeze. Follow it and you’ll find all the time you could need to create, contemplate and treasure the world.

 

Ali Farka Toure – Hawa Dolo

 

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

Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Continuing with our Zepplin vibe from last week, we fly north to the home of Terakaft. This song was singled out from a list rich of Tuareg talents for its steel-string guitar, more restful than its electric cousin yet with more drive than its nylon string brother. Nice and reflective, the YouTube community would have me believe that the song title roughly translates as “Sometimes, love has thorns”.

Which kind of love does the song have in mind? Lover’s love? Brotherly love? The love between countrymen? Could be any. As the fragile peace accord signed in June is already unravelling, it is difficult to look beyond the latter. Any love that the pro-government militias and the separatist group showed earlier this summer has been blown asunder by the news that the militia had taken the town of Anefis on August 17th – a direct violation of the peace agreement. The UN responded by sending troops to a separatist stronghold in an attempt to halt the militia’s advances  and save the accord from further damage.

How much control is exercised by the government over the militias is unclear. Peace between the separatist CMA and the militias is presented as a pre-cursor to the army and the UN tackling hard-line, militant, Islamist groups which appear to be the real immediate priority. Therefore, it would lead one to deduce that the violation of the agreement by the so called pro-Bamako militia’s are a proverbial thorn in the government’s security agenda. On the other hand, it would not be the first time in the history of conflict that a period of ceasefire, with all the positive rhetoric and symbolic gesturing, has been initiated and broken for strategic gain. Yet in this scenario it looks bad to be the one to break it…

Elsewhere, around 3000 miles further north, a new frontier emerged where young Malian men also did battle. In a violation of the typical peace and serenity south London is known for, two Malian men stepped out of relative obscurity to go head to head, both backed by highly-trained international mercenaries. Bakary Sako, 27 year old Malian striker for Crystal Palace, netted on his home debut to be Man of the Match and beat Aston Villa despite the promising, albeit late, injection of pace and ability from Villa’s 19 year old substitute Adama Traore. Following the game, Traore – a summer purchase from Barcelona – indicated he will choose to serve Mali, the country of his parents, at international level from now on. Traore is a Spanish national and has played promisingly all the way up to Under-18 level but for reasons not yet known he has decided to switch. Switching national allegiance is remarkably common; recent high-profile players to do so include Diego Costa (Brazil to Spain), Lukas Podolski (Poland to Germany), Thiago Motta (Brazil to Italy) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Germany to Ghana) who, like Traore, breaks the tradition of moving allegiances away from the developing world to Europe.

Does the love of one’s country or sense of place sometimes have thorns? Certainly can. It is curious however that for something like nationality which is often presented in Britain as an absolute, a truth and an obvious feature of one’s identity, for Mali it often a mixed and contested concept. For a footballer its can be as simple as personal preference, or even – cynically – exchanged as part of a good career move. But that’s nothing new. For the separatist its a matter of life and death. It’s of huge political significance and, when branded as a national of a country they do not recognise, it can be considered a source of oppression.

Does Mali have to have a uniform sense of nationhood for peace to be realised? Now that has to be a question for another time…

 

Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Vieux Farka Toure – Walé

It’s been a little while since we had a father-son dynamic here on the Hub. So to correct this we’ll follow on from last week’s father of Malian blues to the son; Vieux Farka Toure for no reason other than the fact that they’re both exceptionally good musicians.

From the exceptionally good, to the completely awful; the security situation in Mali is declining. In a ‘deteriorating‘ security situation, AQIM have become bolder attacking UN and Malian military bases in what has become a very bloody few weeks. Attacks are occurring across the country; in the south and along the border with Mauritania – so not just in the north. The renewal of  the mandate of the UN peacekeeping  mission MINUSMA in July can be seen as a positive sign, though as the deployment enters its third year its ability to strengthen “the foundation” of sustainable and lasting peace is going to be exceptionally difficult. The foundation it refers to is the signing of a peace agreement several weeks ago that has taken a step towards peace between the government and some – but not all – groups. A crucial distinction. AQIM appears to have taken this void as an opportunity to ramp-up its presence and the government is feeling the pressure – President IBK recently scrapped a foreign state visit in response to the spike in violence.

 

Vieux Farka Toure – Walé

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Cheick-Tidane Seck – Watjoro

Nearly a month ago, the conflict that has been raging in Mali’s north ‘formally’ came to an end. At least with the Azawad rebel groups. In the weeks since violence has continued unabated with fragmented rebel groups continuing to war with Malian troops, UN Peacekeepers being massacred, high-profile assassinations and killings, and international organisations increasingly being targeted. Not really the peace we’ve been waiting for. Its a start however; the fact that Tuareg and Arab separatist leaders were present cannot be understated – these parties failed to attend a similar event in May which lead to fears that no solution was imminent. This ‘formal’ ending of conflict has ended political deadlock and has provided a roadmap, albeit just a sketch of one, to “federalism in all but name”, as an African diplomat put it.

So with one war over, gaping holes remain in Mali’s overall security. Even the German Foreign minister, visiting Mali recently ahead of German take-over of the EU training mission, made it clear that “there is still a long way to go before the Malian armed forces can undertake the security of the country on their own.” A new frontier on the war has opened up on the border with the Ivory Coast, showing that conflict in the country is no longer isolated to the sparsely populated, desert expanse of the north.

There is still a place for Cheick-Tidane Seck then; the “Keyboard Warrior” and one part of the Malian, afro-cuban, super-group the “Ambassadors”. Of course, Seck is no conventional diplomat, preferring communication through his own brand of jazz. A great collaborator, Seck could probably teach the politicians and generals a few things about harmonising people from different cultures with different histories and ideas to create something that can be celebrated by all.

 

Cheick-Tidane Seck – Watjoro

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

SMOD – Fitri Waleya

This week is all about youth. Music served up by SMOD, cause for celebration served up by Mali’s superb under-20s football team – returning heroes from the U20 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand. SMOD, formed in 2000, are quite  sophisticated hip-hop group. Acoustic elements, latin vibes, articulate lyrics but contemporary bounce and rhythm. All this whilst remaining critical of the state-of-affair’s their generation are steadily inheriting. ‘Fitri Waleya’ captures that quintessential hip-hop mood; critical, angry, disappointed, but also present is an underlining optimism and faith in their own individual agency and ideas. Though the expression of critique these artists show their belief in something better. The popularity of rap music is delivering these messages to the masses. Will this make for a more politically sceptical, perhaps more resilient and savvy next generation?

On the other-side of the planet, a more immediate obvious cause for optimism has caught the world’s attention. But first, a bit of context; Africa is football-mad. The comprehensive nature of the continent’s obsession with the sport is hugely significant in how African nations see themselves, each other and their place in reference to the rest of the world. The case of Ghana at the South African World Cup in 2010 illustrates this well. The media frenzy that follows the tournament focused heavily on the idea that the ‘hopes of a continent‘ rested on Ghana, the only African nation to make it through to the quarter finals. This was Ghana’s first time to this lofty height since 1970. With a great team, Ghana had an excellent shot at going one further and becoming the first African team ever to reach a semi-final. Instead of the competition between nations, as often seen amongst European countries, Africans band together. In 2010 people all over Africa came together, as their own teams steadily dropped out the world’s premier sporting occasion. The Ghanin players took on their new roles with earnest. Star-striker Asamoah Gyan devoted the win over the USA which he orchestrated to ‘the whole of Africa’.

In the quarter-final, ultimately, all Africans (and many, many others world-wide) were collectively distraught at the final result. In defeat the bruised “Golden Generation” of Black Stars surrendered their place as the hopes of the continent to another country, yet to be selected for this high honour.

Could Mali step up? Their rampant youth certainly have the potential. Mali’s U20s, managed by Fanyeri Diarra, blew away their African “brothers” Senegal in a superb display in the bronze medal match, including a double-save from Mali’s keeper, to protect the Malian’s lead and then the deal-sealed with a team wonder-goal finished off by Diadie Samassékou. But who will lead these rising heroes? Step forth ‘Magician’ Adama Traore, winner of the tournament’s best player ‘Gold Ball’ award.

Annoyingly, these boys will come of age at Qatar’s shameful World Cup in 2022, which I was hoping to boycott. Anyway, they’ve got to qualify first so for now, we’ll just let the music play.

 

 

SMOD – Fitri Waleya

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Kassé Mady Diabaté – Fununke Saya

As summer hots up so does excitement over the UK’s season of music and performing arts festivals. At two festival’s in particular – Glastonbury and Womad – it is cheering to see Malian musicians featuring prominently once more. However instead of concentrating on Hub favourites Songhoy Blues and Tinariwen (there will be plenty of time for this) instead we have a Hub début for Kassé Mady Diabaté.

Though apparently not a relation, Diabaté is similar in sound to Toumani Diabate. Indeed, as Youtube poster WitnessTheDivine writes, Toumani and Kassé have crossed paths on a several occasions, including on the Spanish Flamenco West African collaborative project Songhai where Kassé is credited as a vocalist alongside composer Toumani’s kora. Other featured big hitters are ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate and legendary producer Lucy Duran.  You can’t be half-bad if you keep such esteemed company.

Overwhelming is the temptation therefore to rush to Womad to see Kassé in action “under the stars”. A bio on the festival reads on:

“Of Kassé Mady’s most recent album, last year’s loudly applauded Kiriké, cultural review website The Arts Desk got it absolutely spot-on when they declared that it was “like sitting in a Bamako compound, late at night, under the stars, and being sung to, person to person”.”

Best way to see him ‘person to person’ this summer? See you at Womad!

 

 

Kassé Mady Diabaté – Fununke Saya

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koité & Bamada – I Ka Barra

Here at the Hub we try and vary the good news with the bad news. Whilst there is plenty of bad news swirling around, it is important to remember that life during war time, poverty and instability carries on the best it can. Mali’s current problems are chiefly man-made – the recurrence of conflict and dreadful economic mismanagement. In an incisive article this week, Alex Duval Smith succinctly captures the relationship between the two; how they perpetuate one another. Importantly, it explains the misery and complete lack of options it create at an individual level, compassionately showing that to become a migrant is no easy option, even to a neighbouring country let alone Europe, but what if you believe its the only way out of poverty for you and your family?  There is huge pressure to go elsewhere in an attempt to provide for those who it pains you to leave behind. Not an unreasonable belief to hold considering the dire situation in Mali, particularly in the northern half of the country.

Furthermore, Duval Smith links up the bigger picture full-circle. A common narrative is that Europe is having a problem dumped on its shores and coastlines, and has no choice but to deal with it. Relief and rescue efforts are stoic and noble at best and at worst are pandering, wasteful and – in the words of UKIP Leader Nigel Farage – “could lead to half a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilisation“. Duval Smith pins the problem back on Europe and the West for bank-rolling corruption through poorly structured aid programmes. Europe can hardly claim that it has been unaware of this problem up until the moment it began washing up on its beaches? They have routinely and somewhat actively failed to address many incumbent political and economic problems in West Africa. Worse, millions in public funds have been signed off by the European electorate with the best of intentions, only to be used to do the precise opposite.

But as we began, there is good news. Duval Smith has reported some too via annotated picture gallery of the massive 13th Century mosque in Djenne getting its annual coat of mud. This is no ordinary maintenance job as thousands of ordinary Malian’s join in, furiously working in teams to assist the skilled masons. Its a contest of speed, with respect being the greatest prize and motivator. One mason notes that more people have brought flags this year; noticing that these expressions of community are taking on increasing national significance for ordinary, peaceful Malians. These projects defy the script, that their country is hopelessly turning upon itself, and people are embracing them – reclaiming the script for themselves. So this week’s song had to match this in its positive outlook, and what better than a song entitled “Your Work”.

 

 

Habib Koite & Bamada – I Ka Barra

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Super Onze – Adar Neeba

Super Onze are the real roots of desert blues” explains Lucy Durán from the School of Oriental and African studies on the Super Onze website. “This is how it all sounded before the electric guitar came in to the equation: Super Onze play amplified ngonis with virtuoso and hypnotic melodies, their raw, impassioned bluesy singing hangs over heavy takamba beats on calabash percussion. After years of playing at weddings and child naming ceremonies around the desert, this band rocks – not to be silenced. The real soul of Mali’s northern desert.”

In a recent article on the website of T160k – an organisation set up to support the housing and restoration of Timbuktu’s manuscripts – Super Onze explain their story, values and history. This includes their traumatic experiences of late in conflict stricken Mali; intimidation, forced flight and the destruction of their instruments and with them their livelihoods. The film that comprises the bulk of the information in the article illustrates what Lucy Durán speaks about above. Everything from the takamba beats to the importance of music in desert ceremonies. What the written aspect of the article does overplay perhaps is that “Filming heritage IS preserving heritage”. For example, I’m not sure here in the UK we should build a road through the middle of Stonehedge just because a video of it exists somewhere on YouTube – but the sentiment is useful, and Super Onze know this too. Music is important to Mali’s future, for social, cultural and economic reasons both internally and for reaching out abroad. The political and economic situation is far from stable or improving. Perhaps if this music were to be banned again, tragically prevented from being passed down in a reprisal war or simply destroyed outright – these recordings would count for something.

Adar Neeba is a Tamashek song, about an area in the region of Tombouctou. It’s name literally means ‘Lost Feet’. “It is an area where people often get lost in the absence of things in the environment to orient themselves upon.” Its subject matter may be about a land with the potential to confuse but its style, composition and sound is firmly rooted. It knows exactly where it is and where its come from.

The fight is still on to ensure it has a future beyond  memories, recordings and pixels on a screen.

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Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Bassekou Kouyate – Désert Nianafing feat. Amy Sacko, Afel Bocoum & Ahmed ag Kaedi

Such was the success of last weekend’s ‘Festival sur la Niger’ that some commentators have declared Segou, the host town, the new cultural capital of Mali. Segou’s Mayor goes a step further, declaring it a centre of cultural excellence in West Africa. Indeed the festival is proving to be a triumph of modern Mali embracing a music as a vehicle – literally a ‘caravan’ – for peace and for recognising rap and hip-hop as a – perhaps the – powerful contemporary art form. Tourism and diplomatic interest has been spurred on by the strength of character and ambition displayed in preparing the festival.

Bassekou Kouyate performed on the Saturday evening, along with a host of big names in the Malian music world, in what must have been the most vivid, passionate and liberating artistic expression to occur in Mali for some years. This week’s Song of the Week celebrates every ounce of work that has been ploughed into making the above a reality. Reading about the peaceful success of an important national  show-piece makes the heart swell with hope.

 

 

Bassekou Kouyate – Désert Nianafing feat. Amy Sacko, Afel Bocoum & Ahmed ag Kaedi