Tag Archives: Music

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ali Farka Touré – Yer Bounda Fara

This week’s track comes from Ali Farka Touré’s final solo album “Savane“. The album was written and completed by Touré in the knowledge that he cancer was terminal and it was released posthumously four months after his death in 2006.

This week’s track has been picked in testament to Ali Farka Touré’s own statement about the album:

“I know this is my best album ever. It has the most power and is the most different.”

The song seamlessly blends the blues with traditional Malian sounds. Its a very simplistic song with few instruments yet its power is stocked in the call-and-response lyrics of the chorus that burst out from the steady, jovial bounce of the guitar.

Ali Farka Touré – Yer Bounda Fara

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

Salif Keita – Madan

It is now over a year since French military forces responded to Mali’s emergency calls for urgent support following a coup d’etat, collapse in civil authority and the huge momentum gathering behind a patchwork of militant groups. Following a very eventful intervening 12 months, the return of elections and stability has not deterred people from being cautious about the fractured and vulnerable state of Malian affairs.

Mali’s music scene has been equally cautious at climbing out of its shell. As far as most mainstream Western broadcasters are concerned, the main development in this regard has been the arrival of the Africa Express that introduced the previously-unknown and the up-and-coming of Mali to some Malian and world greats – including Salif Keita, the artist behind this week’s Track of the Week. Gemma Cairney, who was in Mali at the time with the BBC, was write to stress in this interview the difficulties Keita faced due to his albinism and the “crusading” work he has undertaken to support the albino community in Africa. Despite being a direct relation to Sundiata Keita – the founder of the Mali Empire in the early 13th century – he has battled to become the “Golden Voice of Africa”.

Sadly, the Festival au Desert is still ‘In Exile’ and just goes to how difficult the current situation is for Mali’s musicians away from Bamako. Tourism, a large part of the music industry, has taken a big hit. In the context of the present and reflecting on recent past, the song – released on the 2002 album ‘Moffou’ – takes on a nostalgic edge.  This week track is a proper feel-good song, but it does hark back to an era of stability. The work of Africa Express to “revive” normality is an act which – by its very nature – continues the state of exception. The one-off air-drop into Mali has been a great contribution, no doubt, but in another 12 months can we expect to have feel-good, almost care-free afro-beat emanating from Mali on the global airwaves? What is the role of Mali’s rising stars and its legends? In the last 12 months a brave new Mali has been formed. In the next 12 we’ll have new songs and musicians to tell us about it.

For certain, Mali’s musicians have been excellent in their articulation of a nation’s feelings on the conflict and the turmoil. Unfortunately in this regard their job is not over yet.

Salif Keita – Madan

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Terakaft – Taddaza

This week’s track was the highlight of an outstanding Terakaft concert in Dalston of November last year. Terakaft, in their own words, are “the perfect embodiment of all that is wild and free in desert blues today. They have taken the electric guitar and made it their own.” Terakaft was formed in 2001 between Kedhou ag Ossad, Liya ag Ablil, and Sanou ag Ahmed, with Kedhou previously being involved and remaining strongly associated with the desert blues band Tinariwen.

Terakaft are an excellent example of the ‘desert blues – a genre of music so closely associated with northern Mali and the southern/Saharan Maghreb region. Their music personifies their origin; the mystic, seemingly endless and hypnotic desert geography of north Africa. SoundCrash, the event organiser, summarises wonderfully:

“Terakaft are a genuine Tuareg desert rock band sculpted by the rolling sands of the Sahara: weathered, dusty, relentless, endless. Through droning guitars, pulsating rhythms, and powerful, mournful vocals, Terakaft – ‘Caravan’ in their mother tongue – tell tales of a nomadic people, of families displaced, of violence, loss, sadness and defiance.”

Terakaft are dedicated desert people through and through. Some band members have declined the opportunities to travel abroad with the band, preferring to remain in behind at home “in the desert”.

This week’s track is an example of Terakaft’s more melodic work. Known strongly for their rolling and hypnotic rhythm sections, ‘Taddaza’ is more catchy, emotive and adventurous. It certainly gets a crowd moving.

 

 

Terakaft – Taddaza

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Djelimady Tounkara – Mansa (Mali)

The Malian griot of the modern age faces a dilemma that his or her ancestors didn’t really encounter.  Griots have always been able to attract great followings and reputations. However, the wide spread accessibility to analogue and now digital broadcasting and recording has warped the social mobility of griots and their audiences have boomed. There is a generation of a certain age that had to encounter this for the first time.  It presented a different set of difficulties to the griot ‘caste’ than in the context of contemporary, youthful Malians like Rokia Traore. People like Tounkara and Ali Farka Toure were pioneers.

As described in Worldmusic.net‘s The Rough Guide to African Guitar Legends, Djelimady – despite growing up surrounded by traditional music being played by his family – was told by his parents that yes, becoming a musician was a nice idea but perhaps he should pursue something more ‘practical’. On this Tounkara and his parents disagreed, with Djelimady believing that upon arriving in Bamako from his home-town of Kita he would become a tailor. His parents hoped he would become a marabout – a scholarly Muslim cleric.

It seems that fate and his ancestry would win the day and decades later Tounkara is now widely regarded as one of his country’s greatest ever guitarists. Indeed, whilst living in Kita (a town that punches remarkably above its weight in producing musical talents) as a young man Tounkara gained a reputation as a good drummer and excellent guitarist – regarded as the best by many. This reputation led to his graduation from the government-sponsored neighbourhood band Orchestre Misira to the Orchestre National – an impressive feat and a great honour.

Fate played its part again in the early 1970s with Tournkara’s meeting with Salif Keita – an individual already destined to dominate African and world music. Despite President Moussa Traoré‘s “cataclysmic” decision to disband all state-sponsored bands, Tournkara’s career accelerated whilst being a part of Keita’s ‘Rail Band’. Disruption to the band’s membership and high-profile exits promoted Tournkara to the lime-light as lead-guitarist. This responsibility cemented his perception in the minds of Malian’s that he was one of their country’s greatest ever. He has worked on several fantastic collaborations, and was one of the many unlucky African musicians to miss out on the highly succesful and iconic Buena Vista Social Club project due to visa troubles. This was later redeemed following Tournkara’s involvement in the collaborative epic AfroCubism.

As a result of all the above it is not as surprising, perhaps, to learn that he only produced his first solo album ‘Sigui’ in 2001. However, exploring this award-winning work will have to wait, as this week’s track in an older classic that showcases his mastery of the rhythm guitar – a much overlooked discipline when one thinks of “guitar legends”.

Djelimady Tounkara – Mansa (Mali)

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Vieux Farka Toure – Paradise

A “achingly beautiful” song from Vieux’s second studio album ‘Fondo‘. Its beauty is woven by a duet between Vieux and the great Toumani Diabate on kora.

Now it is tempting to say that Vieux has taken a break from the usual tact of the desert blues – not full of guitar-licks and vibrant-chord strokes. Yet in its calmness and serenity it retains the characteristic mysticism that encapsulates Malian music.

From the first note it encourages you to sit back and drink it in. I suggest you take a moment and go along with it.

 

Vieux Farka Toure – Paradise

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

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Boubacar Traoré – Sa Golo

“Boubacar Traore’s stately, affecting acoustic guitar and unpretentious, story-led vocals are just about as satisfying as it gets in downtown Bamako” – John Armstrong

Boubacar Traoré’s rise to fame has been pitted with difficulties. Its a story that reads similarly to Issa Bagayogo’s; a talented young man gets a lucky break when he takes a chance do forge a music career in Bamako. During immediate post-independence from France in the 1960’s “it seemed as though he’d made the big time. Every morning Traoré would be on national radio, greeting the country with his song “Mali Twist,” a love letter to the new nation.” Again, like Issa, this success didn’t translate into income, and Traoré was left unable to pay the bills or feed his family. Years of hard times and unstable employment followed and his music was relegated to a mere hobby. The sudden death of his wife in 1987 was an awful moment, and has been described as a turning point in Boubacar’s life path. With many of his children already in adulthood, he moved to France and laboured away alongside other Malians in construction sites.

He began playing again and was eventually sought out by an British producer. Boubacar produced his first album at the end of the 80s and began touring in the early 90s, with good success. Other albums followed, through to his most recent in 2011 entiteld ‘Mali Denhou’.

Like “Techno-Issa”, Boubacar Traoré has his own nickname. Boubacar goes by the nickname Kar Kar or “the one who dribbles too much” in the language of Bambara in reference to his child-hood football playing.  As he describes, Kar Kar is “a nickname I got from playing soccer when I was young. People would yell ‘Kari, Kari’ – dribble, dribble – the name stuck with me”.

 

Boubacar Traoré – Sa Golo

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Rokia Traoré – Finini

It has been a good year for Rokia Traoré, as far as success in a musical career can go. She released her 5th studio album, “Beautiful Africa”, and staged a tour that won praise both here, across Europe and in the USA. What is most striking about Traoré is the way she is being described at present. She is being solidified as one of the greats of Malian music. She is continuously being cited alongside legends such as Salif Keita and Ali Farka Toure and being heralded for her close association with the Africa Express and her performance at Glastonbury Festival. And though her most recent album has not been applauded by all with the same enthusiasm as in the past, its clear that Rokia Traoré has an enduring class about her work.

This week we roll back the clock to her first album “Mouneïssa“. It was made following a meeting and guidance by Ali Farka Toure, which could explain its more traditional orientation. However, Rokia’s knack for originality and breaking the mould is still easily identifiable. She hints of this with the pairing of the balaba – the large balafon of her region – and the ngoni an instrument favored by Bambara griots. In addition, the album also contains a blend of modern and traditional vocal techniques. This week’s track, Finini, is a great example of this.

Rokia Traoré – Finini

 

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Fatoumata Diawara – Kanou

Another great track from World Circuit Records, “Kanou” provides a great summary of what makes Fatoumata Diawara‘s work so good. Despite her relatively young age, Diawara has grown to be a very important and influential artist on the African music scene. She has a professionalism and drive that has made her a leading voice in Mali’s political affairs. She was also one of the Malian big-guns that was parachuted in with the rest of the Africa Express to help revive Mali’s music scene.

This professional drive carries over into her music. Her music is always excellently produced and on this track in particular the guitar and percussion gently and effortlessly glides together in such a deliberate fashion. Finely tuned but still natural and warm at its very core. It makes for delightful listening.

 

Fatoumata Diawara – Kanou