Tag Archives: slavery

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.