Tag Archives: Music

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Soubour

This week’s track of the week heralds the return of the Africa Express – a collective of African and world musicians led by Damon Albarn. No longer a project of one-off festival performances or extraordinary, train-commandeering super tours but now in the form of a début album entitled “Maison Des Jeunes” which was recorded in Mali in October in just 7 days.

On the Africa Express website it is explained that “Africa Express musicians and producers set up a temporary studio in a city youth club and worked with a new wave of contemporary Malian musicians to complete the album in one week. The club, situated on the banks of the Niger river and known locally as Maison Des Jeunes, became the venue for a week of discovery, collaboration, music-making and live performances.”  With them was a BBC crew that captured the magic as it unfolded, documenting the creative industry of up-and-coming Malian talents working alongside some world greats like Brian Eno and Salif Keita. Since mid-October the BBC have produced two decent reports into how the Africa Express’s arrival serves as a significant milestone for the regeneration of Mali’s music scene in the wake of the conflict.

This week’s track is the result of a collaboration between Timbuktu indie band Songhoy Blues and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner. In their first ever studio session they produced the track ‘Soubour’ and if this racy, adolescent stormer is anything to go by, the rest of the album will be a treat – just check out the list of other contributors.

So, as the place to record its first album, why did the Africa Express choose Mali? For many it is about solidarity. In recognition of the enormous strife that has afflicted Mali’s creative industries over the past two years many foreign artists have been driven by a sense of duty to revive it. For Malian artists it is a home-coming parade of sorts. Many, like legendary Malian guitarist Afel Boucum, thought he would never return to his homeland.

Same is the story for Songhoy Blues. They formed in response to the occupation that saw secular music banned. But the confidence oozing from a commanding riff like the one in ‘Soubour’ suggests that their contribution to Maison des Jeunes is something more than a celebration. It suggests gusty defiance and pride in the fact that they, with many others, stood up and fought their own battle for Mali’s and its music – and won.

Songhoy Blues – Soubour



There will be a “Maison De Jeunes” launch party in East London on the 9th of December. Should be one for any music-lovers diary. For information and tickets see: http://www.rockfeedback.com/concerts/detail/africa-express-album-launch-maison-des-jeunes Hope to see you there.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Issa Bagayogo – Dama

For a man of rural origins, it is brilliant that Issa Bagayogo has become the one Malian musician to be given the nick name “Techno-Issa” in recognition to his experimentation with blending traditional music and the electronic samples. Ever brilliant is the fact that the story could have been very different for Bagayogo. Growing up in the 1960s in rural southern Mali he was first introduced to music through the playing of the daro – a bell that keeps farm workers labouring. He then picked up the kamele n’goni and at the age of 30 left his local successes and the difficulties of agricultural life to take a shot at a musical career in Bamako – an equally difficult journey.

He struck some luck in the form of a pair of Frenchmen who had recently opened a studio and needed a n’goni player. Despite this fortune and successfully producing a cassette of his own money was short and he returned home. Two years later he returned to Bamako to produce his second cassette with similar result. However instead of returning home he became an apprentice bus driver, but depression set in and his health deteriorated.

It could have ended this way, but Chris Nickson explains his incredible turn-around:

“Eventually, however, he decided to turn his life around and began playing and singing again. He returned to the studio, where he met French engineer Yves Wernert and Foamed Koné, who’d been a guitarist in Ali Farka Touré’s band. What they wanted to attempt was something radically different for African music, mixing traditional music with beats and samples. At first Bagayogo was unsure, if only because it was so unlike anything he’d done. He’d never worked with drum machines before and the process proved complex. In late 1998, though, Sya was released, selling a phenomenal 15,000 copies and getting Bagayogo an award in 1999 as Malian song’s Brightest New Hope and the nickname of Techno Issa, in addition enabling him to finally quit his job as an apprentice bus driver.”

This week’s song of the week is from the 2002 album he released shortly after called “Timbuktu”. It was an international hit and Techno Issa became a house-hold name. A powerful story of determination and a struggle quite the contrary to the creative and lively jive he has become known for.


Issa Bagyogo – Dama

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Oumou Sangare – Yala

In our post last week we suggested that Sali Sidibe may have been the “the original Wassoulou musician of this popular age of Malian music”. This undermined Oumou Sangare‘s – as well as many other’s – claim to the title. So this week, it has been decided that we give Oumou a chance to make her own case.

Of course it is impossible to ever decide on these things, but Oumou’s successes are enormous. A Grammy Award Winner, she is sometimes described as the “Songbird of Wassoulou“. Her record label is the great World Circuit Records who describe her in the following way:

“Oumou Sangare is Mali’s great diva, and one of the world’s most astounding female voices. Her idiom is the hauntingly beautiful and hypnotically rhythmic home-grown music that has become her trademark: Wassoulou.”

Sangare has many great songs and she will no-doubt be making another appearance on the Hub in the weeks and months to come, but this week we are putting up a very fun track. Certain to jazz-up any Wednesday morning.

Oumou Sangare – Yala

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Sali Sidibe – Yacouba Sylla

This week’s song was a discovery of complete chance. The song was found whilst researching the life of the Aston Villa player Yacouba Sylla – who is also from Mali. Believing this song may be about the young midfielder it was a strange to read that this week’s song was written in 1996 when the footballer was only 6 years old.

In the opinion of the person who posted the song onto YouTube Sali Sidibe is:

“One of Mali’s greatest female vocalists and recorded her first singles in the ’60s and helped lay the foundation for the Wassoulou music sound of the ’80s. She was also a former singer with the National Ensemble of Mali.”

They continue stating that:

“Her earthy, powerful vocals are set to a unique blend of didai, sigui, and sogonikun dance rhythms. In 1993 she released her first solo album, Wassoulou Foli.”

This high opinion is reiterated by Frank Bessem:

“In the footsteps of the pioneers Kagbe Sidibé and Coumba Sidibé, Sali became one of the most popular Wassoulou singers in Mali.”

Wassoulou is a region of deep south-western Mali on the borders of Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. It’s music – performed mostly by women uses traditional instruments like the soku and the kamalen n’goni (a six-stringed harp) in a progressive manner; placing women in a position to address the vocalise on issues that concern them. The prominence of Wassoulou music may go some way to explain how some liberties for women are respected highly despite Malian society on the whole being ranked as one of the world’s most unequal. Legendary Wassoulou musician Oumou Sangaré for example found great resonance, fame and popularity across West Africa for using her songs to address the issue of freedom of choice in marriage.

But according to Frank Bessem, Sidi Sidibe had had a musical hit in Mali before “anyone had heard of Oumou Sangaré“. Perhaps Sidi Sidibe was the original Wassoulou musician of this popular age of Malian music. However, it is not yet understood who the original Yacouba Sylla was.

If we ever find out we’ll let you know.

Sidi Sidibe – Yacouba Sylla

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

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Mama FC

Ballaké Sissoko is about to embark on the UK tour. Starting with an appearance on BBC Two’s Later….with Jools Holland on the 29th of October, Sissoko along with his Quartet and special guest Babani Kone – and impressive musician in her own right – will be touring the UK through the whole of November. His performance in London will form part of the London Jazz Festival.

When Ballaké Sissoko last appeared as the Track of the Week it was with a track from his most recent album – the one he is presumably promoting through the tour above. However, this week we return to some of his earlier work with cellist Vincent Segal. Their collaborative works were released as in an album entitled  “Chamber Music”. This masterpiece rocketed both artists into international recognition and Sissoko has been regarded as one of the great kora players of the modern age by ever more people ever since.

To celebrate and welcome Ballaké to the United Kingdom this week’s track returns to this great collaboration. It shows off some of his greatest traits; his mastery of the kora, his trademark delicacy and effortlessness, and the soothing and subtle approach to music that must make him a dream to work alongside. Nothing is left to chance. One commentator even makes that points that “the silences are full of meaning”.

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Mama FC

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba – Jama ko

Bassekou Kouyate is the one of the best and indeed the most famous ngoni player of his generation. Other greats include Cheick Hamala Diabaté and Issa Bagayogo, all following on from the legendary, Malian “national treasure”, Bazoumana Sissoko who was blind from the moment he was born. Sissoko was from the Ségou region of Central Mali and also happens to be Bassekou Kouyate’s grandfather.

“Ngoni ba” is the name of Kouyate’s band. The ngoni itself has many varieties but is essentially a banjo-like stringed instrument with a body and neck made of wood or calabash and a dried animal skin stretched over its body. Kouyate’s international identity has become synonymous with that his of the ngoni so much so that his Wikipedia page and the page of the instrument use the same photograph.  The ngoni is a historic instrument going back around – or at least – 800 years.

Kouyate is a griot – a ‘oral historian/musician’ as described in last week’s “Track of the Week”. His fame is appreciated by many as being a vital boost to the ngoni musical tradition – through which much history and knowledge is carried – which was at a risk of dying out. Also helping the cause are two of Kouyate’s sons who play alongside their mother and father in Ngoni ba.

Again, through the on-going crisis, he has been a welcome boost to the cultural values of Mali. This week’s track “Jama ko” is the title track of his 2013 album. On the inside cover Bassekou explains:

“Jama ko means ‘a great meeting of people’: you may be rich or poor, Muslim or Christian, let’s get together and enjoy ourselves. Jama ko, c’est pour tout le monde…There are over 90% Muslims in Mali, but our form of Islam here has nothing to do with a radical form of Sharia: that is not our culture. We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali.”

In response, Kouyate ensures that Mali’s heart is going nowhere. Take a look at the music video for “Jama ko” – it is exactly what it says it will be. The YouTube poster states that the video is “a cry for tollerance [sic] and peace. Bassekou invited the Christian community, Muslims, Touareg friends like Manny Ansar (head of the festival au desert), the tailor from next door and many other people to celebrate the open spirit of Mali. Bassekou launched the video on TV in Bamako on Africable and ORTM to spread the message.”

In addition to the above, or perhaps as a result, it is a fantastic party track too.

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba – Jama ko

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Samba Touré – Be Ki Don

Born close to Diré near the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, Ibrahima Samba Touré is a successful Malian guitarist and singer. The quality of Samba’s artistry is best signified by that fact he used to be in Ali Farka Touré’s band and was invited by Toumani Diabaté to recreate his mentor’s work on his Ali Farka Touré Variations tour.

This week’s track comes from his most recent album “Albala” which means “Danger” and has many politically motivated tracks on it, as well as those created as a response to Samba’s experience with the recent turmoil.  He is known for his cool and glittering guitar solos backed by a hypnotic roll of acoustic, bass and electric guitars in an “insistent” rhythm section. In this manner “Be Ki Don” does not disappoint.


Samba Touré – Be Ki Don

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ali Farka Touré – Timbindy

This week sees Mali celebrate its 53rd year of independence from France. Due to the intense sadness of recent years and the recovery that is battling bravely into life, this year’s independence parties and ceremonies will no doubt have a different feel to them. Amongst the celebrations it appears that for many the day will still be a time to reflect and look back on what Mali has endured. The new President will use the day as a way of forwarding national reconciliation by organising a get together of all former Heads of State, including previous military leaders.

Back in February, some argued persuasively that the military intervention of France would undermine the perceived independence of Mali in months and years to come.  On the other hand, it is widely accepted that the French intervention “brought Mali back from the brink” of total collapse.

Independence is a difficult concept to measure. Perhaps Mali’s sense of independence is still on the mend and the successful election process has been the most important aspect in its re-assertion since the intervention – Malians can begin to feel that they are back in control of their country.

Is it the same country?

This week’s track is from way back, long before Mali was a democracy. It has an undetermined date of when it was first written and it was recorded originally in the 1970s. “Timbindy” was released on Ali’s 1984 “Red” album – so called due to the bright red sleeve the record was contained in. Legendary broadcaster Andy Kershaw first heard of Ali Farka Touré by a chance selection from a Parisian record shop’s bargain-bin.  Immediately it was clear to him – his radio listeners – that this guy was special and had “just got it” and soon Farka Touré was in the UK and his world wide fame flourished. Many Malians will reflect, remember and reconcile this weekend. Looking back  provides us with reasons to look ahead too. Difficulties hit the Sahel in the early 90s, with violence in the north and political unrest and revolution resulted in deaths and political instability. Democracy, stability and economic growth eventually won the day, yet the recent return to violence has made many question if this was ever the recovery they thought they had achieved. Nevertheless, Mali’s people can be hopeful that their country will recover. The 12 months since their last independence day have been the some of the most difficult of Mali’s modern history. Again, democracy and stability prevailed. Of course the situation remains incredible fragile and complex. And although Mali’s resilience is difficult to explain, it is easy to observe.

By going a long way back, this week’s Track of The Week is a small symbolic way of illustrating not only the enduring and timeless strength of Mali’s music, but also of Mali itself.


Ali Farka Touré – Timbindy

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ali Farka Touré – Diaraby

Ali Farka Touré…

Ever since the Mali Track of the Week started it has been difficult not to queue-up thirty Ali Farka Touré songs. He was one of Africa’s most internationally recognised musicians and is still the modern reference point for all Malian musicians trying to make it big on the world stage.

There is too much to say about Ali to do him justice here. At the time of his death in March 2006, the BBC 3 broadcast this hour long obituary as a tribute to his life, the spirit of his music, and to mark the passing of a great man  – told from the very people who knew him best and loved him most. In particular, the obituary opens with a vibrant snippet of party life on a boat, on the Niger river, heading to Timbuktu and captures the moment that Ali himself climbs aboard. Magical moments. May times like these return in full-swing soon.

So now to the impossible task of finding a track to do all the above justice. This week’s track is taken from his 1994 album “Talking Timbuktu” created in collaboration with American guitarist/producer Ry Cooder – the mastermind producer behind the “Buena Vista Social Club”.  It’s the final, parting track on a gift of an album.

So difficult was this choice the Mali Track of the Week will have back-to-back songs from Ali Farka Touré. This is a special gesture to celebrate Mali’s up-coming Independence Day (22nd of September) and also to mark the great progress made by the Mali Development Group over the last 12 months.

Please, above all, enjoy Ali Farka Touré’s “Diaraby”.

Ali Farka Touré & Ry Cooder – Diaraby