Aminata Wassidjé Traoré is a rising voice in Mali. Born in Diré, near the fabled city of Timbuktu, Aminata was raised within northern Mali’s rich cultural brew. From an ethnic Songhai family, Aminata started singing as a young child.
Voiced with deep passion and grace, Aziza Brahim's is a contemporary sonic poet and an eloquent spokesperson for the Saharawi people and their struggle for recognition and justice.
We land in Mali without finished songs, just pages of notes and fragments and a plan to create something out of whatever comes our way, channeling the energy we find snapping and popping in the air around us.
The music of Ben Zabo is a clear break from this quietude. His music is a string of firecrackers igniting on the dance floor of a midnight party.
By any measurement the last couple of years have been an exhilarating ride for Bombino. In late 2004, he recorded acoustic versions of nine songs in the Ténéré desert, which became his first real album. We released it on 2014 Record Store Day.
Lobi Traoré was a true African original, a guitarist of profound depth and originality, a singer and songwriter with universal appeal, and a performer who became part of the very fabric of Bamako, one of the world’s most musical cities.
When you meet Samba Touré in person, he comes off as a soft-spoken man, a man who easily charms you with his abundant smile and optimistic gait.
SONIDO GALLO NEGRO
Sonido Gallo Negro (Black Rooster Sound) is a stunning 9-piece, instrumental combo from east Mexico City (Aragon) that channels both the mystique and mysticism of 1960's Peruvian cumbia.
Music always is a borderline experience. Especially when not only stylistically boundaries are shifting, but the centres of musical creativity are moving.
The London-based quintet Fofoulah (meaning “it's there” in Wolof) was formed in 2011 and just like the complex city they live in, their music is shaped and lifted by diverse sound-worlds and cultures.
With the rhythms of the Sabar drums – a traditional form of Wolof drumming from Gambia and Senegal – at its heart, Fofoulah’s music has evolved into an inspired cosmopolitan mélange that also incorporates elements of electronic music, dub, improvisation and afro-rock. Like the complex city they live in, their music is shaped and lifted by diverse sound-worlds and cultures.
Produced and recorded across an appropriately dizzying array of locations and social contexts (New York City, Dakar, Nouakchott) chanteuse Noura Mint Seymali’s album Tzenni is a contemporary articulation of Moorish griot music from Mauritania—an artform that has been evolving and gaining momentum for centuries. Noura Mint Seymali is an artist profoundly steeped in history and tradition but also rigorously devoted to its global resonance.
Sonido Gallo Negro (Black Rooster Sound) is a stunning 9-piece, instrumental combo from Mexico City that channels both the mystique and mysticism of 1960’s Peruvian cumbia. The band integrates a variety cumbia styles with electric guitars, Farfisa organ, Theremin, flute and of course fluid Latin percussion. Spaghetti western soundtracks, psychedelia, indie rock and surf music also echo in their compositions. This is transformative music with bold intentions, wit and excitement.
Record store day release. The rush of the desert wind, snippets of between song conversation and the sound of grazing animals in the distance are essential elements of the album’s deep atmosphere. Agamgam 2004 is not only an intimate, privileged view of Bombino’s roots; it is also one of the most authentic documents of modern Tuareg music ever released.
Bamako Nights – Live at Bar Bozo 1995
01. Nu tugula mogo mi ko
04. Sigui nyongon son fo
05. Ne kelekanuba
07. Bamaku N.tichi
Bamako Nights captures the incendiary genius of Lobi Traoré, a soulful singer/songwriter and blazing electric guitarist of Mali, who died too young – just 49 years old – in 2010. Lobi produced five studio albums during his career, as well as four live releases, including the solo acoustic session Rainy Season Blues (Glitterhouse 2010). But Bamako Nights offers the deepest and most intimate record of this artist’s astounding power on stage in a small Bamako nightclub.
In 1995, the Bar Bozo was a unique destination. Mali’s democracy was just a few years old, and people were finding new ways to exercise freedom. The bar was an unglamorous, downtown nightspot, dark and often crowded. It didn’t cater to elites, but working people, who came to drink and dance and enjoy a live band long into the night. Lobi Traore was still emerging as a popular artist in Bamako. His earthy blend of Bambara roots and edgy electric guitar, and his philosophical songs of social life and the challenges rural people face in the city, were made to order for Bar Bozo. No wonder he packed the place on a weekly basis.
Lobi had begun recording albums by that time, and performing in Europe with an acoustic ensemble. But at Bar Bozo, he and his small electric ensemble were developing a new, rawer sound, one that would make Lobi a staple of Bamako’s live scene, and a legend of African blues celebrated around the world. You can hear in this smoldering session Lobi’s joy at having recently acquired a flanger pedal. His solos build to soaring, ecstatic heights, as unhinged as anything in African rock since.
The set starts out slow and meditative with “Ni Tugula Mogo Mi Ko,” conjuring a trance atmosphere that Lobi elevates systematically with his keening vocal and eloquent picking. You can almost feel the weight of a sweltering Bamako night as Lobi forcefully guides his band though musical catharsis. By the time they kick into high gear on “Sigui Nyongon Son Fo,” the weight has lifted and spirits are flying.
It’s hard to say enough about Lobi as a guitar stylist. His sound echoes older Malian pentatonic guitarists, notably the iconic Zani Diabate, whom Lobi accompanied briefly. And there are clear rock echoes; Lobi was a fan of AC/DC’s Angus Young! But in the end, Lobi’s guitar voice is his own, unmistakable, deeply informed by tradition and graced with sparkling personal epiphanies – even with the flanger set to 110%.
A few weeks after this recording was made, Bamako authorities closed down the Bar Bozo, and Lobi had to move his joyful party to an obscure venue on the outskirts of town. Bamako Nights is a time capsule recording. It evokes an artist, a time, and a place that came together with amazing potency, and can never be recreated.
01. Moko ti y lamban don
04. Alah ka bo
05. Melodie de Bambara Blues
08. Moussa de Konina
09. A Lamèn
10. Koumayé Niyé
Lobi Traoré (1961-2010) was a true African original, a guitarist of profound depth and originality, a singer and songwriter with universal appeal, and a performer who became part of the very fabric of Bamako, one of the world’s most musical cities. Not long before he died—suddenly and unexpectedly in June, 2010—Lobi recorded an unprecedented solo CD—just him and his guitar, in a single session with no overdubs. Rainy Season Bluesturns out to be Lobi’s final statement, and we are lucky to have it, for it captures the pure essence of his artistry in full flower.
Lobi was born Ibrahima Traore, in Bakaridjana in the Segou region of Mali, the center of the 19thcentury Bambara Empire. Lobi recalled, “A Muslim teacher came to my village to see my father, who was a great marabou. He came for his business, but he had an acoustic guitar, and I became very interested in it.” It would be a few years before Lobi got his hands on an axe, but the seed had been planted. Lobi’s first gig was playing maracas in a neighborhood band. “Right from the first time they said it was good,” he recalled, “I had music in my blood.” He went on to play timbales with a wedding band from Bamako, but spent so much time borrowing a guitar to practice with that the bandleader bought him one of his own, later reimbursing himself out of Lobi’s future pay. “It was an acoustic guitar and its neck was all twisted,” Lobi recalled, “but I managed.”
From his earliest days, Lobi was an avid rock and blues fan who listened to players from John Lee Hooker to ACDC’s Angus Young. This history combined with the fact that he started out as a percussionist says a lot about the expressive, highly rhythmic, and transcendently bluesy guitar style Lobi went on to develop.
The wedding band he played in specialized in Manding music, melodious, heptatonic praise songs drawing from an old standard repertoire. “I didn’t really understand Manding music,” said Lobi. “I come from the inspiration of Bambara music. At home, when I’d take up my little guitar, I would play what I sing. In the beginning, it wasn’t any good, but little by little it got better. I started to understand pentatonic melodies on the guitar. So when we went with this band to play at weddings, often I would ask if I could do a Bambara song. I would take the guitar and play a song, and everyone was happy with it. In the end, they would always ask for these songs. “Play a Bambara song!” they would shout.”
This led to Lobi’s debut on Malian national radio, his first recordings, and his recruitment by a band from Abidjan, where he spent the next seven years refining his art. Lobi returned to Bamako and his lifelong tenure in the city’s late-night bars and clubs—Bar Bozo, Makelekele, The Djembe, Espace Academie, and others. In a city where most people enjoy their music at weddings and concerts and do not drink alcohol, the clubs where Lobi played were frequented by working class couples keen for a night of dancing. Lobi also drew fans of the more earthy African electric music music, and no doubt, a few more unsavory types as well. It was all part of the gritty ambiance of Lobi’s pungent, late night sessions in Bamako.
Lobi became a skilled songwriter specializing in exhortations to party, or celebrations of love., but many of his lyrics delivered keen social messages applicable to the daily lives of his fans as well. Discussing some of his most beloved early compositions back in 1996, Lobi said, “In ‘Dene Kele,’ I talk about property, and the people who sell food in the street. I tell them, ‘You must sell proper food. You must not sell bad food that will make people sick when they eat it.’ Then there is ‘Nama Da Yele.’ That one says that there are people all over Africa whose daughter likes a boy and they prevent the girl from seeing the one she loves. The two are in love and they want to be together. So the song says, ‘If you don’t open the door, I will enter by the window. I will pursue my love.’ I advise parents that if they protect their daughters too much, they will drive them to rebel.”
When Lobi’s first cassette Bambara Blues appeared in 1989, things began to take off. Lobi had mixed feelings about the “blues” tag. “I listened to a lot of blues,” he said, “Especially John Lee Hooker. Maybe I was inspired by that. Maybe the blues was inspired by Africa. Maybe the resemblance is just a coincidence. But listen, for me the music I play comes from me, from my place. Someone who hears my music and says it’s the blues, well, to me blues is American music. We don’t even have that word. Each place has its arts. It wasn’t me who came up with the idea of Bambara blues. People kept saying, ‘Bambara blues, Bambara blues.’ In the end, I accepted it. But I don’t think the blues is our music.”
In 1990, Lobi was invited to perform with an acoustic trio at the Africolor festival in France, and this became an annual ritual. He returned to Abdijan for the MASA festival where he played electric with a group of percussionists—“modern traditional music” as he called it. Lobi recorded three CD releases for the Cobalt label: Bamako (1994), Segou (1996), and Duga (1999). But there was a schism in Lobi’s musical persona during these years. His international releases presented a toned-down, acoustic side of his music, while his club dates in Bamako became ever more wild, raw, and raucous. Subsequent CD releases like The Lobi Traore Group (Honest Jon, 2005) did capture the more unbridled, rocking side of Lobi’s chameleon musical persona. But all of it is Lobi, an artist with many faces.
Lobi sought to dignify a profession that many Africans still view as dubious. “I believe that music is legitimate work,” he said. “Not everyone can be a bureaucrat or businessman. I’ve chosen music as the way I express myself. It’s all I know in life. If there are things wrong with what I do, I hope people tell me. I need criticism. If there’s a way I can improve my music, I want to do it.”
The fruit of that attitude, and Lobi’s rich and varied experiences are abundantly evident on Rainy Season Blues. In his final years, Lobi was driven to record and to demonstrate how he had grown as a musician. Producer and guitarist Chris Eckman had returned to Bamako to record the Tuareg desert rock band Tamikrest, but Lobi more or less demanded a hearing. When it became clear that a full band recording would not be possible right away, Lobi turned up with just his guitar, and recorded this remarkable set of ten songs, new and old.
Thank God he did! The session offers a magnificently lucid record of Lobi’s core talent. His playing has never sounded cleaner, fresher or more nuanced. No guitarist alive phrases the way Lobi does, and to hear him unaccompanied like this is a treat not found on any of his other nine albums. Lobi’s voice shows all its colors, from a soothing half-whisper to a world-weary growl, to keening melodic power vocal.
Among those who will be grateful for Rainy Season Blues is Bonnie Raitt, who heard and jammed with Lobi during a trip to Mali in 2000. “What I love about Lobi’s playing,” recalled Raitt, “is how hypnotic, bluesy and emotional it is. He got me from the first time i heard him—absolutely his own style, but in direct line with the deep, modal Delta blues I love. He was a rising star, carrying on the soulful, improvisational style of Ali Farka and John Lee Hooker, but adding his own innovations on the electric guitar. He was also wonderful man, beloved by so many and it’s a terrible loss he was taken so soon. I’m honored to have had the chance to know and play with him.” And we are all honored that Lobi left with this singularly intimate and deep recording.
03 El Barm
04 El Madi
05 El Mougelmen
06 Hebebeb (Zrag)
07 Soub Hanallah
10 Emin Emineïna Chouweynë
“Noura Mint Seymali, from Mauritania, comes from an ancient family of griots, and she has a commanding, wide-open voice…the pentatonic melodies of her songs had something in common with the blues. But her fusion was particular and selective…She only meets American music on her own terms.” – New York Times, January 13th, 2014
“She cleverly merges her powerful voice with the twangy guitar sound created by her husband…this Mauritanian music is an excellent example of roots rocketed into the 21st century.” – Songlines, April/May 2014
TZENNI in Hassaniya means to circulate, to spin, to turn. It‘s the name for a whirling dance performed to the music of Moorish griots, often under khaima tents thrown up for street gatherings in the sandy quartiers of Nouakchott and out across the wide deserts of Mauritania. Tzenni is an orbit, the movement of the earth around the sun, the daily progression of light and dark, lunar cycles, tides and winds. Tzenni, the dance, comes forth as the cyclical trajectory of a Moorish musical gathering builds to a fervorous pitch. It‘s a word whose expansive valence reminds us how only the most basic reality can create such romantic metaphor.
Produced and recorded across an appropriately dizzying array of locations and social contexts (New York City, Dakar, Nouakchott) the album Tzenni is a contemporary articulation of Moorish griot music from Mauritania—an artform that has been evolving and gaining momentum for centuries – as voiced by Noura Mint Seymali, an artist profoundly steeped in its history and rigorously devoted to its global resonance.
Noura Mint Seymali comes from a long line of visionary musicians. Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, her father, was a scholar-artist instrumental in opening Mauritanian music to the world; devising the first system for Moorish melodic notation, adapting music for the national anthem, and composing works popularized by his wife (Noura‘s step-mother), the great Dimi Mint Abba. From her precocious beginnings as a teenaged backing vocalist with Dimi Mint Abba, Noura Mint Seymali now drives the legacy forward, re-calibrating Moorish music for our contemporary moment. Her band‘s arrangements, rigor, and experimental spirit may be understood as a continuation of the tradition of Seymali, Dimi, her grandmother Mounina, and countless others.
Together with her husband, heroic guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly, who brings the force of yet another powerful branch of Moorish musical lineage, the band on this recording was conceived as a distillation of essential elements, the ―azawan‖ and the backbeat. The ardine & tidinit (or guitar) together are the ―azawan,‖ the leading ensemble of Moorish traditional music, while bass & drums, played here by Ousmane Touré and Matthew Tinari, fortify it with genre transcendent funk and a basic pop urgency. Tzenni re-visits several classics of the Moorish repertoire, but does so within a novel formation, conversant in the pop idiom, and with Noura Mint Seymali’s personal history interwoven throughout. The practice of aligning music to a given socio-historical and personal moment is an essential charge of the iggawen, or griot, and, we believe, of artists everywhere.
As we seek to convey another turn in the Mauritanian musical dialectic, Tzenni is ultimately an album about shape shifting, faith, and stability found through instability. It‘s about taking the positive with the negative in a world that can only ever keep turning at break neck speed. We invite you to spin with us, to dance with us, through the music on this recording! –Matthew Tinari: producer/drummer for Noura Mint Seymali
1 – Eguetmar Eguetmar recites a simple dialogue between two men meeting in a foreign land:
A: I feel like a stranger here, alone and without my family. My longing makes me feel desperation as a baby being weaned from its mother. I fear I must try to forget my family in order to succeed.
B: Have faith; I guarantee you will return to your family. In the name of God, I shall offer you all you need to return. ―Bismillah.‖
2 – Tzenni Tzenni is a reflection on change and instability. The poet is tormented and troubled, but takes refuge in the fact of impermanence. ―Everything turns, everything changes. Nothing in this life is stable; everything can change at a moment‘s notice. Sometimes life brings happiness and sometimes sadness. What real decisions can be made, what course can be taken in a world that‘s always changing?‖
3 – El Barm
A classic of Mauritanian traditional repertoire, ―El Barm‖ is a love song. Sung in the voice of a restless, unstable man who believes he may never change and is destined to wander forever, he now marvels at how his life has ultimately been altered by a woman, in whom he has at last found stability. Their love has changed his course in a way he thought was impossible; as impossible as combining the East with the West. Various metaphors for the impossible ensue.
4 – El Madi
―El Madi‖ means ―the past.‖ The song is the reflection of a prisoner jailed in the time before Mauritania‘s independence. He addresses a lover on the outside, remembering their past: ―The judge will not free me to see you. I‘m imprisoned unjustly and long to see you again. As I dream of you I‘m blinded by the gold of your headdress, shining so brightly in my memory.‖ In traditional context, ―El Madi‖ is a dance performed by women.
5 – El Mougelmen El Mougelmen is a dish in Mauritania made from a mix of spices and flowers. Similarly, the song‘s lyrics are a mix of different lines of poetry, thematically unrelated and chosen for musicality, mashed up via free association in a way similar to the ingredients of the dish. ―My thoughts are on the women of today,‖ Noura sings – women implicitly being the makers of El Mougelmen. ―God bestows blessings and takes them away,‖ blessings such as food and sustenance.
6 – Hebebeb (Zrag)
Composed by Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall. The poet is overtaken by the beauty of a woman, named Mariam, picking dates in a grove of trees. Rather than addressing Mariam directly, he pleads with her friend, Heydana, to sing for Mariam in order to attract her attention. He asks Heydana, ―repeat after me, ‗Hebebeb…‘ Always sing this song for her early in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening‖
7 – Soub Hanallah
A sacred song devoted to the prophet Mohammed (p.s.l.) and asking God for forgiveness. May God forgive and protect parents, sisters, brothers, and all loved ones. May God grant mercy upon our sins. Soub Hanallah recites numerous praise names for the prophet.
8 – Tikifite Tikifite is an herb that is believed to heal the liver and stomach. ―Stir the tikite‖ a man asks, he wishes to be healed and together with his soul mate. A song often performed by Dimi Mint Abba, poetry written for her is often included; ―Dimi when you sing for me it heals me.‖
9 – Char‘aa Char‘aa is primarily a dance. The title refers to the dance / rhythm which precedes the singing. The text here is that of an old praise song, sung originally for the prophet Mohammed (p.s.l.) upon his return to Medina after victory in battle.
10 – Emin Emineïna Chouweynë
Dedicated to Noura‘s paternal grandmother Mounina, a great singer and musician, the song assembles various lines of poetry written about her. The title, literally ―where are you ugly?,‖ originates from a line questioning popular criticism of Mounina by posing a simple question; ―they may say that you are ugly, but where can this ugliness be found?‖ Another line concerns Noura herself, offered to her as a compliment, by a poet who says her voice is as beautiful as Mounina‘s. The text mourns how Mounina‘s absence leaves a void.
03 El Barm
04 El Madi
05 El Mougelmen
06 Hebebeb (Zrag)
07 Soub Hanallah
10 Emin Emineïna Chouweynë
1. LA PATRONA
2. EL VENTARRON
3. SERENATA GÜAJIRA
4. VIRGENES DEL SOL
5. ALFONSO GRAÑA (SELVATICA)
6. TZANTZA SOUL
9. COUP DE POUDRE
10. MISTERY OF ZANGBETOS
Sonido Gallo Negro (Black Rooster Sound) is a stunning 9-piece, instrumental combo from east Mexico City (Aragon) that channels both the mystique and mysticism of 1960’s Peruvian cumbia. The band integrates styles like Amazonian cumbia, huayno, soniderocumbia, boogaloo and chicha with electric guitars, Farfisa organ, Theremin, flute and of course fluid Latin percussion. Spaghetti western soundtracks, psychedelia and surf music also echo in their compositions.
Their premiere album Cumbia Salvaje (Wild Cumbia) was released in Mexico in 2011 and it quickly catapulted them out of Mexico City’s heated underground scene and onto major festival and television performances. Albeit a very young group, they were invited in 2012 to the Kustendorf Festival in Serbia, curated by the famed Serbian Director Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies). Also in 2012, they performed in Italy and Spain.
Their shimmering second album, Sendero Mistico (out in Mexico in 2013) will be their first ever-international release, and Glitterbeat’s first full-fledged release away from the African continent.
On the new album Sonido Gallo Negro follow the lay lines between cumbian sounds and instrumental rhumba tracing the heritage left by masters like Jaime Llano, Tulia Enrique Leon and the Hammond driven sounds of Eduardo Azurite. But for all its glances to the past, this is decidedly contemporary music, also evoking the band’s collective love of indie rock and post-psychedelic moods and textures.
The mind-bending ritual of this music can best be understood by witnessing their live show. Clothed in monk robes and backed by spectral video and light projections, on stage Sonido Gallo Negro is a very impressive proposition. These video links give a glimpse of the spectacle:
When you meet Samba Touré in person, he comes off as a soft-spoken man, a man who easily charms you with his abundant smile and optimistic gait. But on his third album, Albala, which in the Songhai language means “danger” or “risk”, a weighted and at times defiant side of his personality emerges. To call Albala his darkest album is an understatement, but it is not a self-absorbed darkness. The cause of Touré’s worry is the crashing world around him, and more specifically the troubles echoing out from his beloved northern Mali homeland.
The last year has brought cataclysmic change and upheaval to northern Mali. The tragic details of this have been globally reported, so there is little point in sensationalizing them here. But the cumulative effect of these events on Samba’s music seems palpable. There is an added gravity to his voice and his words, an additional sting to his electric guitar; there are sharper edges and more complex undertones in his musical arrangements.
On “Fondora (Leave Our Road)” Samba sings with indignation:
I say, leave our road/ All killers leave our road/ Thieves leave our road
Looters, leave our road/ Rapists, leave our road/ Betrayers, leave our road
And on the haunting “Ago Djamba (Life Betrays Us)” Touré warns: We do not all have the same opportunities/ Here, nobody is born rich but we all have the same value/ Life betrays us.
As a band member, and valued collaborator of the late Malian legend Ali Farka Touré, Samba established a significant reputation, and through his first two solo albums Songhai Blues and Crocodile Blues (World Music Network) his confidence and musical prowess grew proportionately.
But Albala is a new flash point. There is more power, there is more grit, the mood is deeper, and aptly, given the album’s title, Touré takes more musical risks.
Recorded at Studio Mali in Bamako, in the autumn of 2012, Samba is joined by his regular band members Djimé Sissoko (n’goni ) and Madou Sanogo (congas, djembe) and guests such as the legendary, master of the soku (a one-stringed violin) Zoumana Tereta and the fast-rising Malian neo-traditional singer Aminata Wassidje Traore. Additionally, Hugo Race (The Bad Seeds, Dirtmusic, Fatalists) contributes an array of subtle atmospherics on guitar and keyboards.
On the opening song, “Be Ki Don”,Samba sings: “Everybody welcomes Samba Touré.”
With an album as soulful and captivating as Albala, that might not be an over-statement.
01. STARS OF GAO feat. Super 11
02. NARHA feat. Aminata Wassidjé Traoré
03. MOVIN’ CAREFUL
05. BALLADE DE BEN ZABO
06. RED DUST feat. Samba Touré
07. CLOUDS ARE COVER
08. STARLIGHT CLUB
09. BLIND CITY
10. DAY THE GRID WENT DOWN
11. SEPTEMBER 12 feat. Ibrahima Douf
Dirtmusic’s previous album “Troubles,” released in June of last year, was recorded in Bamako, Mali in the dark days of the 2012 political upheaval. A propulsive collection of cinematic Afro-rock, “Troubles” for the most part rose out of improvisational sessions involving Hugo Race (Fatalists, Bad Seeds) and Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts) of Dirtmusic and the nimble, balafon driven Ben Zabo band. Malian luminaries like Samba Toure, Zoumana Tereta, Aminata Wassidje Traore and Virginie Dembele from the Rokia Traore band, brought exhilarating vocal and instrumental contributions to the collective.
“Troubles” was not a mere construct or hybrid, but rather something deeply collaborative and genre-busting. Louder Than War wrote: “an incisive and unique journey in sound…this album is rock, it’s roll, its funk, it’s African, it’s an aural delight.”
“Lion City” the new Dirtmusic album, is culled from the same Bamako sessions as “Troubles” but offers a decidedly different atmosphere and ambiance. While the Ben Zabo band is still the core collaborator, the textures and tempos are slower and more opaque. Organics and electronics intertwine and unfold unpredictably. There are less guitars and more liquid sounds. The outward frustration and fear documented on the previous album has given way to something more insular and pensive. The echoing space between the notes is emphasized and subsequently so are the voices and the texts.
Samba Toure provides a vocal and lyric for “Red Dust” a song that enshrines the contemplative mood of the album. Over a swirling dub-scape he intones:
How can we reconcile and forgive?
How can we bring peace to those that hate us?
Yet we have no choice
We need to stop fighting
While Samba Toure, Ben Zabo and his band, and Aminata Wassidje Traore previously appeared on “Troubles”, “Lion City” also features an inspired team of new collaborators.
+Tamikrest members Ousmane Ag Mossa (guitar), Cheikhe Ag Tiglia (Bass) & Aghaly Ag Mohamedine (percussion) appear on the bluesy and meditative “Movin’ Careful.” This is the first time the two groups have collaborated since Dirtmusic’s BKO album from 2010.
+The iconic Takamba band Super 11, from northern Mali, exchange thorn-like trance sounds with Hugo and Chris on the album’s opening number “Stars of Gao.”
+MC Jazz, an up and coming Bamako Hip Hop artist adds a fiery incantation to the mostly instrumental “Day the Grid Went Down.”
+Ibrahima Douf, a young singer from Senegal, provides a stunning vocal on the album’s final track “September 12.” The song is an ode to his grandmother.
The 21stcentury claims to be borderless. A world of hyper-communication and instant nostalgia that is both celebrated and feared. On “Lion City” Dirtmusic stayed clear of such theorizing and just got on with the practice. The collective joy they found in making this music is what mattered most.
01 Chicken Scratch
03 The Big Bend
04 Wa Ya You
05 Up To Us
07 La Paix
08 Take It On The Chin
09 Wa Nazu
10 Sleeping Beauty
11 God Is A Mistery
Troubles is an album from Dirtmusic – Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts) and Hugo Race (Fatalists/True Spirit/Bad Seeds) – recorded in Bamako, Mali, in September 2012 during the high-tension and tragic recent crisis – hence the name, ‘Troubles’.
Originally a trio with Chris Brokaw (Come/Codeine), Dirtmusic released their eponymous debut in 2007, a gritty collection of acoustic ballads drawn from their American and Australian frontier roots. The band’s explorations of raw, psych-folk-rock then took a radical detour out to the Saharan desert, to Timbuktu, performing at the legendary Festival-au-Desert.
Dirtmusic’s encounter at the Festival-au-Desert with the Tuareg band Tamikrest was the catalyst for the second album, BKO (2010), a classic, one-of-a-kind trip through the interzone between ‘western’ and Tamasheq desert rock. The two bands toured Europe extensively and the album received major shout outs from both the rock/pop and “world” music press:
With the departure of Chris Brokaw, Race and Eckman decided to head further ‘upriver’, composing and recording an album from scratch in full collaboration with a select crew of Malian artists. Dirtmusic arrived in the Malian capital of Bamako with notebooks of lyrics, but without written songs or preconceived strategies.
Drawing on musicians from the Ben Zabo and Samba Toure bands as a core rhythm section, Race and Eckman produced the sessions on the dance floor of Salif Keita’s Moffou Club, inviting in guest vocalists including not only Ben Zabo and Samba Toure, but also Virginie Dembele (from the Rokia Traore ensemble), rising star Aminata Wassidje Traore and soku-master Zoumana Tereta.
There are many voices telling stories on Troubles, singing in Songhai, Bambara, Tamasheq and English, stories of war and peace and love and doubt in the shadow of an oncoming storm, and like a musical version of cinema verite, everything is real, in-the-moment and utterly direct.
Inspired by the collision between West African rhythms, digital sorcery and rock’n’roll, Troubles is a singular and border-slicing musical journey. And Troubles is only the first release from the sessions, with a second volume in the pipeline for a release on Glitterbeat in early 2014.
1. Black Gravity
2. All Tomorrows Parties
3. Ready For The Sign
4. Desert Wind
5. Lives We Did Not Live
7. Smokin Bowl
9. Niger Sundown
10. Bring It Home
2. Black Gravity
3. All Tomorrow’s Parties
4. Desert Wind
5. If We Run (Audio)
6. Ain’t No Grave (Audio)
7. Bogolon Blue (Audio)
8. The Angel’s Message To Me (Audio)
‘BKO’ is the international abbreviation for Bamako Airport in Mali’s capital city. It is also the title of the forthcoming album by Dirtmusic, a group of rock’n’roll veterans from the USA and Australia, which was recorded at the famous Studio Bogolan in Bamako – set up by the late Ali Farka Touré.
All three members of Dirtmusic have a long lasting history as musicians and songwriters in various bands: Chris Eckman is the leader of acclaimed US bandThe Walkabouts, and has also collaborated with Willard Grant Conspiracy and many others. Chris Brokaw has collaborated with Evan Dando and The Lemonheads, Liz Phair and Thurston Moore. The two Americans are joined by Australian-born Hugo Race, the leader of True Spirit and one of the original members of The Bad Seeds. Eckman and Race were label mates and in 2006 they got together with Brokaw to form Dirtmusic. Dirtmusic’s first album, recorded in 2007 in Eckman’s adopted home city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, somehow got into the hands of the booker of Mali’s annual Festival of the Desert who invited them to perform.
Eckman had been a fan of African music for years, so when in 2008 he found himself silky dunes of Essakane at the 2008 Festival of the Desert, it was like a baptism, a revelation, an epiphany. “I spent those three days very much in a dream state,” Eckman recalls. “The music, the sounds, the sights…it was just something absolutely overwhelming.” Next to Dirtmusic’s tent was that of young Touareg desert blues/ rock band Tamikrest. The two bands found themselves jamming together almost non-stop and discovered that their ideas and music fit perfectly. It was clear that this jam somehow had to continue after the festival.
So a year later Dirtmusic returned to Mali to record their new album “BKO” – with Tamikrest backing them in the studio. Connecting in lateral ways, swapping jokes and mixing up English and French and Tamashek (the language of the Touaregs), the mutual language of both bands is really music, and the reunion became a jam session, a discussion in word and rhythm – traditional songs, Dirtmusic songs, Tamikrest songs, passing hybrids of the two. During their meeting in the desert they had played The Velvet Underground’s legendary “All Tomorrow’s Parties” together. When Brokaw struck up the first few chords of the song, Tamikrest just jumped right in without a second thought, as if they’d been listening to the Velvet Underground since the release of the ‘Banana’ album – which they hadn’t. Luckily, they recreated this jam in the studio to include on the album. The blend of sounds and influences on this track is stunning but also feels completely natural. The natural process continued throughout the recording. For instance, Tamikrest leader Ousmane Ag Mossa spontaneously sings in Tamashek over the groove to “Black Gravity” and a kind of fusion erupts between Dirtmusic and Tamikrest. (Whilst most songs are composed by either Eckman, Race or Brokaw, “Black Gravity” contains Ousmane’s own composition “Imidiwan”, meaning ‘friends’, which he ‘gave’ to his new friends of Dirtmusic to include inside their song “Black Gravity”.)
Other Malian stars paid visits to the studio: FadimataWalet Oumar from the famous Touareg group Tartit lends her sublime vocals to “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Desert Wind”. Two master musicians from Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra jam on several abstract pieces, with one of them, “Niger Sundown”, being included on the album, while guitar legend Lobi Traoré plays on closing track “Bring It Home”.
Soon after recording the Dirtmusic album, Eckman returned to Mali, this time to produce Tamikrest’s debut album ‘Adagh’ (out 1 March 2010). And the collaboration continues: in May the two bands will be performing together throughout Europe, including a show at The Borderline in London on 19 May 2010.
01. Erica Moody 3:06
02. The Other Side 5:37
03. Sun City Casino 5:30
04. Face Of Evil 3:35
05. The Returning 5:30
06. Still Running 5:37
07. Summer Days 3:29
08. Ballad Of A Dream 7:15
09. No Sorrow More 4:51
10. Panther Hunting 2:04
11. Wasted On 4:06
12. Morning Dew
01 Illilagh ténéré
03 Tazidert halal
04 Akh al zaman
By any measurement the last couple of years have been an exhilarating ride for BOMBINO, culminating in 2013’s album NOMAD, which was produced by Dan Auerbach of the arena filling Black Keys and was released to widespread acclaim. AGAMGAM 2004 is a beautiful contrast to the Nashville recorded NOMAD. This is Tuareg music in its most pure and unadulterated form.
In late 2004, BOMBINO recorded acoustic versions of nine songs in the Ténéré desert, which became this, his first real album. He sings and plays several of his own compositions and also pays tribute to other Tuareg artists (Abdallah Oumbadougou, Hasso, Kedou). Recorded mostly around the campfire, his assembled friends join in onhandclaps and undulations.
BOMBINO himself picks up the story:
I worked as a guide or cook’s helper and once the season ended, I bought a guitar and strings. I did that for some years, working wherever I could. In 2004, a Spanish team came to make a documentary film and organized a gathering in the Ténéré desert to the north of Agadez (Niger). I was there as a cook’s assistant and in the evening would play guitar in the camp. They decided to record what we were playing in the desert, in the place that’s called Agamgam. Since that’s where the recording came from, I wanted it to have the name of the place where it was made. It was completed in two days.
The rush of the desert wind, snippets of between song conversation and the sound of grazing animals in the distance are essential elements of the album’s deep atmosphere. AGAMGAM 2004 is not only an intimate, privileged view of BOMBINO’S roots; it is also one of the most authentic documents of modern Tuareg music ever released.
The AGAMGAM 2004 LP is beautifully re-mastered from the original recordings, housed in a gatefold sleeve and pressed on 180-gram vinyl. A download code is also included. The album is being released in conjunction with the French label Reaktion and has been directly licensed from Bombino
01 Gdeim Izik
07 La Palabra
08 Manos Enemigas
09 Ya Watani
Voiced with deep passion and grace, Aziza Brahim’s music adeptly travels the expanse between her Western Saharan roots and Barcelona, the European cosmopolis where she now lives. Aziza is both a contemporary sonic poet and a prominent and eloquent spokesperson for the Saharawi people and their ongoing struggle for recognition and justice.
Born and raised in the Saharawi refugee camps lining the frontier between Algeria and Western Sahara, Aziza’s life has been marked by both daunting hardship and inspired will. Fleeing from these camps and the regime of political oppression that followed Morocco’s 1975 invasion of Western Sahara, as a young teenager Aziza travelled to Cuba for her secondary school studies. There she experienced first hand the deep Cuban economic crisis of the 1990’s and the subsequent denial of her request to pursue a university degree in music.
Music had been Aziza’s passion since she was a small girl and despite this setback she returned to the Saharawi camps in Algeria and began singing and playing in different musical ensembles, a process that continued when she moved to Spain in the year 2000. There she founded the eclectic Saharawi/Spanish band Gulili Mankoo with whom she released two acclaimed self-produced recordings: the EP “Mi Canto” (2008) and an album “Mabruk” (2012) both on Reaktion, a French label specializing in Saharan music. In the last years Aziza has performed extensively appearing at major festivals and venues including WOMAD Cáceres (2012) and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London (2009).
Aziza’s new album Soutak (“Your Voice”), her debut for the Glitterbeat label, is her first recording to predominantly focus on the cadence of her majestic voice and the soulful critique of her lyrics. The album was produced by Chris Eckman (Tamikrest, Ben Zabo, Dirtmusic) and was recorded live and direct in Barcelona in June of 2013.
In the liner notes to the album Aziza describes her vision for Soutak:
“Feeling the need to make an acoustic record, I imagined a somewhat modest musical outline, which would not involve too many instruments and in which the voices would take the expressive emotional lead. I wanted to further explore the range of possibilities found in the Haul, the Saharawi’s traditional rhythmic sources, played on the tabal and a source of inspiration for the Desert Blues.”
The hand picked band she assembled for the album consists of Spaniards Nico Roca (percussion) & Guillem Aguilar (bass), Malian Kalilou Sangare (acoustic lead guitar), Aziza’s sister Badra Abdallahe (backing voice) and in addition to singing, Aziza contributes acoustic rhythm guitar and the tabal, the traditional Saharawi hand-drum.
The music on Soutak is a powerful and nuanced mixture of musical cultures and features Malian, Spanish, Cuban and contemporary Anglo-European motifs all held together by Aziza’s deeply rooted knowledge of traditional Saharawi song and sound.
Throughout Soutak, the band frames Aziza’s voice with dignified restraint and leaves unvarnished space for her lyrics, lyrics which range from the sharply political “Gdeim Izik” (named after the “Camp of Dignity” crushed by the Moroccan-backed authorities) to the whispered enigmas of “La Palabra/The Word” (“Cradled by the wind it left/ it went around the world and returned/ and there beyond the word was heard”)
The song “Julud,” dedicated to Aziza’s mother, is possibly the most emblematic song on the album combining intimate and stark desert poetry with an unyielding faith in the Saharawi political struggle:
You are like the night and the stars/ Your voice goes beyond the top of the clouds/
You are the smiling breeze of today/ You are an example of humanity and of fight.
Resist, immortal, resist.
Though the songs on Soutak can be unsparing in their details of oppression, there is more often than not a “smiling breeze” to be found. Aziza’s essential voice, headstrong commitment and subtly inventive music are that breeze.
With Soutak Aziza Brahim has delivered an empowered flight to freedom; an alternative world where hope is imminent and dancing is justified.
02. Un Jour
04. Yerma Do Fafa
Aminata Wassidjé Traoré is a rising voice in Mali. Tamala is her debut album, recorded in Bamako and released in 2009. Born in Diré, near the fabled city of Timbuktu, Aminata was raised within northern Mali’s rich cultural brew. From an ethnic Songhai family, Aminata started singing as a young child. Her music, like the environment that surrounded her growing up, incorporates various cultures and traditions. On Tamala, an album she self-produced with the help of the artist Mamadou Kelly and arranger Baba Simaga, she sings in Songhai and Tamasheq.
While northern Mali still suffers the repercussions of religious and ethnic warfare, Tamala sends a message of reconciliation and inclusion. Aminata believes people can work together for a solution, and sees the vast potential of Mali’s diverse north. Moving to the Southern capital of Bamako not only enabled her to develop as a musician, backing up well known artists like Baba Salah, Khaira Arby and Afel Bocoum, it also enhanced her vision of a diverse and connected Mali.
Tamala is considered a neo-traditional album in the context of the Malian music scene: it is rooted in northern folk musical traditions, but arranged in a contemporary way and mixes drum programming and synthesizers with the banjo-like n’goni and the sokou, a one-string violin. Hints of Hip Hop and electronic dance music sit side by side with the pentatonic sounds of the interior Niger delta.
Afropop Worldwide wrote this about Tamala:
“And then there’s the music—in a word, sublime…solos burst forth with forthright clarity and consistent eloquence. Western sounds and production techniques have been appropriated here, but the melodic phrasing, rhythms and modalities in the music are 100% local.”
In 2013, Aminata began a collaboration with Glitterbeat Records when she appeared on the album Troubles by the Austrailian/American group Dirtmusic. The Guardian (UK) noted in their enthusiastic review of the album that »La Paix, an impassioned cry against the terrorist invasion of Mali, is voiced thrillingly by Aminata Traore.”
Glitterbeat Records is releasingTamala in a limited vinyl version of 1,000. It will be pressed on 180g vinyl with a gatefold sleeve. The album is coming out in cooperation with Studio Mali, a Bamako based label.
A few words about the songs:
Afrique: This is a song calling for unity among Africans, to work together not against each other, for Peace and progress.
Alfouleila: Always be straightforward with people. If you are honest and upfront, you will have everything you need. Everything comes in it’s time, to people who are good and faithful.
Tamasheq: In Diré we have everything. There are many different ethnic groups in Dire. There are great things in Dire, great teachers, healers and wonderful families. Young people need to realize this and stay there.
Takamba: The North needs so many things. The people who are causing problems are from the North. Why are they causing problems wrecking their country. There are no roads. The north is underdeveloped. The north needs everything, everything that was started has been stopped.
Tamala: The history of the Maiga and Toure families, and how they solved their conflicts to live in peace. It tells the story of how the two families developed their “cousinage,” or how they became cousins.
Un Jour: About a couple who are in love, but the young woman’s parents don’t want them to be together. The young man has lots of questions and worries, and the young women assures him that one day it will all work out and they will be together.
Senkou: Sabotage. Making fun of someone who has less is wrong, remember, it is God who gives and it is God who takes it away.
Yerma Do Fafa: This is a song about having a strong family and the relationships between brothers and sisters. Family members should always be there for each other. Brothers and Sisters should always help solve each others’ problems
01 Wari Vo
02 Sènsènbo (Hommage à Dounaké Koita)
06 Bwa Iri
07 Ya Be Ma`e
Malian Afrobeat may be two words that you don’t hear together very often but 2012′s most exciting new Afrobeat band may well be hailing from Bamako, Mali. Named after their bandleader, Ben Zabo, they are about to release their self-titled debut album, full of funky and gritty tunes, wonderful musicianship, and songs of peace and hope that could not be more timely or necessary. The album is also a testament to the lesser-known culture of the Bwa people; it is the first international release of a Malian of Bo descendant with all songs in the Bo language and rhythms.
Born into nobility in 1979 in the Segou region of Mali, Ben (real name Arouna Moussa Coulibaly) chose music as a career because of his passion but against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to pursue a career as a pharmacist.
In 2007, whilst trying to establish himself as a guitarist, singer and songwriter, Ben also started working as an assistant sound engineer at the famous Studio Bogolan in Bamako. It was in this studio that he first met Peter Weber, owner of the German-based Glitterhouse Records, and Chris Eckman, American music producer, leader of acclaimed US band The Walkabouts, member of Dirtmusic, and collaborator with Willard Grant Conspiracy and many other bands. Weber and Eckman were at the studio on several occasions, to record Tamikrest’s albums ‘Adagh’ and ‘Toumastin’, Dirtmusic’s ‘BKO’ and the late Lobi Traoré’s ‘Rainy Season Blues’. They were blown away by Ben’s enthusiasm, drive and talent. Weber agreed to record and distribute Ben Zabo’s debut album for the international market, with Eckman producing it, again at Studio Bogolan.
Chris Eckman explains:
“Much of the Malian music that has been released on European and American labels in the last few years shares one thing: it is mostly down-tempo and reflective. The kora majesty of Toumani Diabate, the Songhi blues of the late Ali Farka Toure, the singer-songwriter tropes of Rokia Traore and the dusted, acoustic meditations of Tinariwen (on their most recent album) are a demonstration of this point. Even the later albums of the once exuberant Salif Keita have grown more melancholy and ethereal. The music of Ben Zabo is a clear break from this quietude. His music is a string of firecrackers igniting on the dance floor of a midnight party. It is a music that has been perfected in the loud, sweaty, open-air clubs that line the outskirts of Bamako, places where the competition to get heard is fierce, and the chances of moving upward and outward are next to none. When I first came across Ben’s music it seemed unlike any contemporary Malian music that I had heard. Its direct physicality, its polyrhythmic complexity and its raw but focused energy set it apart. But as I dug more into Mali’s musical past, I realised there are antecedents for the music Ben and his band create. In the 70′s and 80′s, like in much of Africa, musicians in Mali were creating a powerful, and at times edgy musical fusion that brought together traditional rhythms and chants with the urban (and often western) sounds of the fast growing cities. Electric guitars and James Brown motifs stood side by side with age-old storytelling. It was a music made out of a complex dialogue: the village reaching to the city and the city reaching to the village. And while it would be too simplistic to gather all such music under one name, due to Fela Kuti’s pan-continental influence and his coinage of the term, much of this music came to be known as Afro-beat. In Mali, during that fertile time, artists like Moussa Doumbia, Le Super Djata Band du Mali, Super Biton de Segou, and Sory Bamba and his many groups (especially L’Orchestre Kanaga de Mopti) were articulate, original purveyors of this cutting-edge musical experiment. Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I once asked Ben Zabo if he had ever listened to Afro-beat and its Malian offshoots. His face lit up and his answer was quick and to the point. “I have listened to too much Afro-beat!” he said, grinning. He went on to acknowledge the deep debt he felt towards the musicians (of all stripes) that have come before him. On another occasion Ben proudly told me that his Malian “Afro-beat” forbearers Super Biton de Segou and L’Orchestre Kanaga de Mopti, had both incorporated the unique Bwa rhythms from Ben’s own minority ethnic group, the Bo people, into some of their classic songs, even though those artists were from a different ethnic background. With the release of Ben Zabo’s self-titled album an older tradition is renewed and an uncharted path begins. Mali’s Afro-beat past is fused with the pulse of Bamako in the new millennium and the rarely heard sounds from the Bo musical culture. This album is the first album ever to be released by a Malian of Bo descent. Because of this, Ben routinely refers to him and his band as “musical warriors.” In this chaotic and often indifferent world, they are fighting to have their voices heard, their rhythms felt and their cultural legacy recognised. They are funky, charismatic and committed. They are not going to give up easily. Bwa power has arrived!”
What is Bwa power?
Ben Zabo and his band have a mission which they intend to accomplish through their music. It is to promote their Bo culture at a national, African and international level with music, dance and Bwa traditional apparel. The name “Ben Zabo” means “son of Bo and Bambara” in Bomu etymology, evoking his belonging to the double cultural identity Bambara and Bo. While perpetuating the traditions of his native Bwatun, Ben Zabo developed a mixed style of rhythms and melodies of Bwa in which one can detect sounds and influences from other modern and western musical styles: Afrobeat, funk, reggae, blues, rock and even jazz. With modern instruments and musical arrangements that highlight his intimate songs, his music is also enriched with Malian instruments such as balafon, tama and the ara’obara, etc.
Ben Zabo’s songs are mostly written and sung in Bomu, his mother tongue. The Bwa are an ethnic minority group living in a small territory called Bwatun (Bwa country), which straddles the border between Mali and Burkina Faso. The Bwa of Mali occupy the area southeast of the Segou region, specially encircling San Tominian and serves approximately 216,000 people. The rhythm of the music of Ben Zabo encourages dancing. It is both an expression and assertion of cultural identity. It is also the voice and form of a social conscience and ethical pride.
In his compositions, Ben Zabo develops themes relating to social values such as brotherly love, peace, justice, tolerance, solidarity, work and good governance. All of those are for him sustainable human development factors, which remain the only guarantee of integrity and social cohesion.
At the same time he strongly denounces greed, hypocrisy, discrimination and demagoguery, the principal evils which undermine the stability of our society and deprive some citizens of freedom, dignity and well-being. On the political front, Ben Zabo encourages all African countries, especially Mali, to become more involved in a true democracy and freedom of people. That every individual and every people have an inalienable right to speak and the sovereign decision of their own destiny.
For women, they are not forgotten in the songs of Ben Zabo: a tribute to them is made – to all the mothers of the world – for the suffering they endure while giving birth. He also writes about their beauty, bravery, love, charm and tenderness.
Ben Zabo are:
Ben Zabo (Arouna Moussa Coulibaly) – lead vocal, guitar
2 Dana (Harmonius Thelonius Meets Ben Zabo)
3 Wari Vo Dubwise (Mark Ernestus Meets Ben Zabo)
4 Dana Dubwise (Mark Ernestus Meets Ben Zabo)
5 Na Yafa (Tamana Dub) (Studio Zuma Meets Ben Zabo)
6 Coup de Gueule
Following the slamming success of his first European tour, Malian Afro-rock pioneer Ben Zabo returns with a 31-minute digital-only EP. Diverse and forward-looking the EP includes three new songs, both “Mark Ernestus Meets Ben Zabo” mixes (only available till now on an out-of-print 12″) and a dance-floor heavy reworking of “Dana” by Harmonius Thelonius. The horn-driven title track “Democratie” is a breathless and passionate plea for sensible democratic leadership in Ben’s troubled homeland Mali. Ben’s much-awaited new album will appear in the spring of 2014.
A mysterious two-song release, licensed directly from a group of Bamako musicians who, with the exception of the Souku master Zoumana Tereta, choose to remain anonymous.
In the last years, the political turmoil in Mali has caused many of the cities clubs to shutdown and dried up other sources of musician income like weddings and festivals. With less work and more downtime, small recording projects like this one have been given more of a chance to happen. The situation continues to be desperate, but the music remains a powerful force: both a refuge and a medicine.
These two Black Mango tracks are ethereal, hard to classify artifacts, seemingly influenced in equal parts by Ali Farka Toure and Lou Reed. In fact, the titles of the songs name check compositions by the recently passed Rock & Roll legend, though they are clearly not cover versions, as much as explorations on themes. The backstory of how and why these two tracks came into being remains untold, and we are left to purely enjoy them as moments captured.
The one credited musician Zoumana Tereta is a legend of Malian music, having played his Sokou, a single-string, horse-hair violin, on albums by Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate, Samba Toure, the National Ensemble Instrumental du Mali and many others.
We can only hope that this is not the last musical transmission we will hear from Black Mango.
Mark Ernestus Meets Ben Zabo – Wari Vo Dubwise / Dana Dubwise
01 Wari Vo Dubwise
02 Dana Dubwise
The debut release by Glitterbeat Records is a limited edition 12” with two dubbed-up remixes by electronic music explorer, Mark Ernestus. The tracks are pulled from Glitterbeat artist, Ben Zabo’s self-titled and highly touted, 2012 debut album of frenetic, Malian Afro-rock.
Mark Ernestus’s influence on the last twenty years of electronic music is well established. With partner Moritz von Oswald, Ernestus spearheaded two legendary projects: the minimal techno pulse of Basic Channel and the avant-roots-dub of Rhythm and Sound. Since the mid-2000’s Mark has increasingly focused on African music. In addition to his remixes for Konono no.1, Tony Allen and the South African electro group BBC, Mark dropped two 12”s last year made in collaboration with the Senegalese band Jeri-Jeri.
“Mark Ernestus is the genetic engineer behind the Techno sound that has become the European heartbeat…the music remains ageless…” The Wire/February 2010
Ben Zabo on the other hand, is a relatively new name. Belonging to the Bwa ethnic group, a culture whose musical traditions are more poly-rhythmic and energetic than most Malian music, Zabo released his first album in May of 2012. Backed by a full-throttle 7-piece band, Zabo’s music pleads for love and justice while barnstorming the dancefloor. The album ended-up on several African music year-end top-ten lists and was widely reviewed and widely hailed:
“This fantastic debut by a new name from Mali…has all the intensity of Africa 70 or Ok Jazz…a triumph.” Mojo
By paring down Zabo’s tracks to their rhythmic, hypnotic essentials, Ernestus has created an inspired soundscape. These “dubwise” mixes somehow succeed in feeling both organic and reinvented. They are not dogmatic; they are a real-time conversation between two music-makers adept at stretching and morphing boundaries. They are tracks that completely live up to their name: Mark Ernestus Meets Ben Zabo.
Tamikrests’s new album “Chatma”, their third, deftly navigates these experiences and fashions them into a fully persuasive and poetic musical document. The album is filled with sober reflection, moral indignation, musical experimentation, cultural celebration and the kick of rock and roll.
“Chatma” is also Tamikrest’s first album to be wholly written around a defined theme. In Tamashek “Chatma” means “Sisters” and the band has dedicated the album in their own words to: “the courage of the Tuareg women, who have ensured both their children’s survival and the morals of their fathers and brothers.”
The opening track “Tisnant an Chatma (The suffering of my sisters)” is a heartbreaking homage: «Who can estimate the suffering felt by the soul / of one who sees her sisters exhausted from waiting/ of one who sees her sisters exhausted from waiting between countries, in deep distress /and daily oppression?«
Fittingly for an album so lyrically evocative, “Chatma“ also delivers Tamikrest’s most wide-screen and wide-ranging sonic statement to date. The infectious, sing-along rock stylings of “Imanin bas zihoun“, the acoustic seduction of “Adounia tabarat”, the Pink Floyd influenced montage “Assikal” and the lush, melancholy ambiance of the albums finale, “Timtar”, all add up to a sustained audio adventure. Echoes of dub, blues, psychedelia, funk and even art-rock are seamlessly weaved by Tamikrest into their increasingly individual take on the Tuareg musical tradition.
And on an album where the title translates as “Sisters”, it makes perfect sense that this time around we hear the full emergence of the haunting voice of female vocalist Wonou Walet Sidati in tandem with lead vocalist Ousmane Ag Mossa. A new guitarist, Paul Salvagnac has also joined the band, bringing with him fresh textures and possibilities.
Music always is a borderline experience. Especially when not only stylistically boundaries are shifting, but the centres of musical creativity are moving.
It certainly would be an exaggeration to state that cities like London and New York, Manchester and Los Angeles have played itself out, but certain symptoms of fatigue are visible in the steady process of looking for ‘the next big thing’. So it is a breath of fresh air that a country like Mali is offering new musical possibilities. Mali-based pop stars like Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Habib Koité or Tinariwen, just like the legend of Desert Blues, the late Ali Farka Touré, have moved beyond the boundaries of just World Music fans. Mali is a huge West African country that combines various languages and cultures, different races and traditions. If one hears music with open ears, one can’t ignore Mali.
But there are not only the big stars that have proved themselves in Europe and the United States – more and more new bands are making themselves known. One of the young and upcoming bands is Tamikrest, who are about to release their second album called “Toumastin”. Their debut album “Adagh” already generated a buzz throughout the world and was met with enthusiam from fans and critics alike who agreed that these young musicians are focusing the rebellious power of rock music in their own special way.
Tamikrest are from Kidal, a remote desert town in the northwest of the Sahara, some 2,000 kilometres north of the capital Bamako. The band members are all Tuaregs, a group of people that is spread all over North and some of West Africa, i.e. Niger, Mali, Algeria, Burkina Faso and Libya. In ancient times the Tuareg were the proud rulers of the Sahara, but their territory was divided in different countries and they had to fight long and hard for independence. Between 1990 and 1995 this fight evolved into a bloody civil war.
After the war many of the rebel fighters traded the Kalashnikovs and hand grenades for guitars and microphones. The band Tinariwen is the most prominent example for the unusual establishment of peace through the spirit of music. But their mission is carried further in their songs. The members of Tamikrest are substantially younger than Tinariwen’s and they have not actively fought in the war, but there is a close resemblance between both bands. Just like Tinariwen Tamikrest have found a way to translate the pulse of the Blues – whose roots lie in North Africa – back to the Tuareg language Tamaschek. They take generators deep into the desert to have electricity for their guitars in search for the perfect synthesis of their traditional ritual drumming with the music of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley.
Tamikrest’s leader Ousmane Ag Mossa is quick to admit his influences: “When I was young I listened to a lot of traditional Tuareg music as well as Tinariwen. There was no other music. I started to learn the guitar around that time and it was only in 2000 that I had access to cassettes of Bob Marley and Dire Straits. That changed my musical vision completely and I stopped to classify music. Music is just music, no matter where it comes from. Music is just too big for me to comprehend in its entirety. My goal is to broaden my horizon step by step.”
Tamikrest are on a trip into the infinite world of music. When the band was founded in 2006 they had a hard time getting exposure in their homeland as it proved to be difficult for music with ancient traditions in a country that is flooded with Western-influenced hip-hop and pop. Things changed abruptly when they played the Festival Au Desert in 2008 and met with the American/Australian band Dirtmusic made up of Chris Eckman (Walkabouts), Chris Brokaw (Come) and Hugo Race (Hugo Race & True Spirit). Ousmane talks about the fateful meeting: “We jammed in tents, open air in the desert sand and on stage. This has extended my musical knowledge tremendously and from that point on I played my guitar in a different way. Through Dirtmusic we had the chance to work in a professional studio for the first time. There was no way had we would let that opportunity pass, so we travelled the long way from Kidal to Bamako.”
With their second album “Toumastin” the young Tuareg rebels create their own universe using even brighter colours. The enchanted ancient mystique of the songs captures the ear immediately, but as the music carries on the band bridges the gap between the African Blues and hypnotic dub, psychedelic funk and an almost supernatural kind of desert garage. The guitars are more offensive, the groove deepens and the Tamaschek chants are merging with the meandering guitar riffs like a caravan voyage through ancient times. Tamikrest are ready to embrace the future while proudly maintaining the rich tradition of their folk.
‘OUTAMACHEK’ from the album ‘Adagh’ by Tamikrest (Written and composed by Ousmane Ag Mossa – Translation by Andy Morgan).
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s Tinariwen who created the path,” declares Ousmane Ag Mossa, frizzy-locked leader of Tamikrest, in a pre-emptive strike against a thousand inevitable questions. “But the way I see it, if younger bands don’t come through, then Touareg music will eventually die. They created the path and now it’s up to us to walk down it and create the future.”
Ousmane was born twenty-seven years ago in a village called Tin-Zaouaten, a solitary speck squeezed up against Mali’s northeastern border with Algeria. It’s a remote marginal place. Or to put it another way: there’s distant, there’s remote and beyond both of those there’s Tin-Zaouaten.
To an outsider, the village would appear to be nothing more than a motley collection of one storey adobe and breeze-block houses, huddling together for protection against the burning sun, the black rocky hills and the lonely immensity of the surrounding desert. But to Ousmane, it’s home.
Like its ‘neighbour’ Tessalit, two hundred and fifty kilometres to the west, Tin-Zaouaten is blessed with a water table that lurks benignly just below the surface of the gritty soil. Dig a few metres and you can usually find water in abundance. That’s why Tin-Zaouaten, or ‘Tinza’ for short, is famed in the desert for its gardens and garden produce. Ousmane’s father Mossa was born a nomad out in the bush, but by the time Ousmane arrived he had settled in Tinza, making a living from growing onions, beetroot, carrots and dates, and selling them in the local markets.
In 1985 drought shook desert life to its core. The rains had failed for several seasons and the village was haunted by famine. “I was born in a time of calamity,” says Ousmane. “In the middle of dreadful events for the Touareg people. My parents knew so much hardship. Then when I was five years old the rebellion broke out. It was 1990, the year of war. I was a child, and I used to hide in amongst the rocks with the other women and children, just a few kilometres north of the village over the Algerian border. When I think of that time, it’s as if it’s all still happening in front of me.”
Thus Ousmane’s childhood was buffeted by the searing winds of recent Touareg history. The droughts of ‘68 to ’74 almost destroyed the animal herds and with them the ancient nomadic way of life of the Touareg. The drought of ’84 to ’85 almost dealt the final blow. Thousands of young men fled into exile in Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso and beyond. That’s where the modern Touareg guitar style of music was born and then nourished by anger, homesickness, frustration and dreams of a better life. It was this generation of Touareg men, known as the ishumar, who returned to Mali and Niger in 1990 to rebel against the callousness, corruption and arrogance of the governments in the distant capitals of Bamako and Niamey.
At first Ousmane just listened to traditional Touareg music at home, and the newer guitar music on battered old cassettes. “I well remember hearing my first Tinariwen songs. I was about five. After the death of my mother, my father was obliged to take me to live with my grown-up sister. One morning I was sitting in front of the house and this guy walked by singing a song by Inteyeden called ‘Imidiwan Kel Hoggar’ (‘My Friends the Hoggar People’). It went straight into my brain…ha ha ha.”
A few years later Ousmane began to play the guitar himself, and write songs. He was attending a school in Tinza called Les Enfants del’Adrar, set up by a French NGO and a local man turned community leader called Hama Ag Sid Ahmed. At the end of every school year the children would create and perform musical plays about pressing themes like ignorance, drought, education and culture.
Hama bought the school an acoustic guitar, and Ousmane adopted the instrument. With his constant friend Cheikh Ag Tiglia, he would write songs and perform them at the school shows. He learned the Tamashek guitar style by listening to a particular cassette which Tinariwen’s leader Ibrahim ‘Abaraybone’ had recorded in Algeria back in 1998.
In 2002, events once again undermined the tenuous calm and stability in Tinza. The village was home to one of the southern desert’s most infamous freedom fighters and warlords, Ibrahim Ag Bahanga. For this reason it became a military no-go zone. Ousmane’s father left to live with his eldest sons in Libya, and both Ousmane and Cheikh went south to Kidal
Kidal is the capital of the far north east of Mali, a region known as the Adagh des Iforas (‘The Mountains of the clan Iforas’). With its wide sandy streets and dispersed one storey earthen houses, Kidal has the feel of a frontier town. For the Adagh Touareg, it’s where it all happens.
Ousmane and Cheikh played the guitar and sang in hidden corners of Kidal, around a fire, drinking bittersweet Touareg tea with their friends. Their reputations grew very slowly, steadily, without wild leaps or fanfares. After a while they heard that a local cultural centre called the DDRK or ‘Maison du Luxembourg’, founded by the Duchess of Luxembourg who had fallen in love with the town when she visited it in 2001, was offering music classes. The teacher turned out to be Juhan Ecaré, a musician from Ivory Coast.
Then this French theatre troupe called La Calma arrived in town and enrolled over fifty young people to perform a massive theatre piece featuring sketches about a host of local issues. It went down a storm in January 2006 at a local festival called ‘The Saharan Nights of Essouk’. Although Ousmane didn’t take part in the project, claiming disinterest in theatre (“I’m a musician…theatre’s not my thing”), Cheikh went along and played with a local percussionist called Aghaly Ag Mohammedine and a bass player called Ibrahim Ahmed, aka ‘Pinnochio’ or ‘Pino’ for short.
On their return, Pino proposed that they form a proper band and record a demo at a small studio, which had been set up at the Maison du Luxembourg. They also decided that they needed a name, and agreed on ‘Tamikrest’, which means the knot, the junction, the coalition, in Tamashek, the language of Touareg. “Each of us came from a different place, a different zone,” explains Ousmane. “Cheikh and I from Tinza. Aghaly and Mossa Maiga from Kidal. Pino from Gao. But we found each other and we had the same ideas, the same intentions. We were like a coalition.”
On the 23rd May 2006, the army garrison in Kidal was attacked by a new Touareg rebel movement called the Alliance Démocratique pour le Changement (ADC). “It was a hard time for me,” remembers Ousmane. “I woke up early that morning and discovered that the town had turned into a nightmare. Those who wanted to join the rebels had already done so. But, in general, that wasn’t the choice of me and my friends. Because we’d never been in the army. We were musicians, not people who carry arms.”
By the end of the year a fragile peace had been restored, although Tinza’s recalcitrant son Ibrahim Ag Bahanga refused to compromise and remained on the run with his own splinter militia. Tamikrest performed at the peace Forum in March 2007, when the Touareg rebels met with the Malian government and thousands of community representatives in Kidal to map out a way forward.
The group were developing their style and their fan base, which consisted mainly of Kidal’s younger generation. They knew the Tamashek guitar style intimately, but they were also deeply into rap, metal, Maghrebi pop and afro-disco music from Ivory Coast. They had new tastes, new desires, new ambitions and Tamikrest was their band.
Pino was quite a mover and shaker. In late 2007 he contacted Manny Ansar, the director of the now world-famous Festival in the Desert and clinched a gig for Tamikrest. The band found the money to transport themselves the 600 miles eastward to Timbuktu. In the silky dunes of Essakane they met Dirtmusic, a group of rock’n’roll veterans from the USA and Australia. It was one of those meetings fashioned by fate in the workshops of destiny.
Chris Eckman of Dirtmusic remembers the meeting thus: “On our first morning in Essakane we woke up hearing music, so we went across the sand to the tent opposite ours and that’s where Tamikrest was playing. Chris Brokaw grabbed his dobro and headed over, then Hugo and I eventually did the same and basically for three days we didn’t leave.”
Once again music overflew all barriers of language, culture, style, shyness and reticence. The friendship formed at Essakane grew in the following months and lead to an invitation by Dirtmusic to come to the Malian capital Bamako to make an album, and contribute to Dirtmusic’s own oeuvre. After another epic journey of 1,200 miles, by car and bus, Ousmane, Aghaly and crew entered their first professional studio and ‘Adagh’ was born.
“It felt very natural to play with Dirtmusic,” asserts Ousmane. “I’ve always appreciated all kinds of different music and it was such a pleasure to play with a different kind of band. Music isn’t something you study; it’s something you learn with your ears. I’d been listening and playing along to Bob Marley, to Marc Knopfler and Dire Straits, to Tinariwen for years. We’d been listening to so much international music and that’s why the marriage with Dirtmusic worked.”
The end of 2009 finds Tamikrest on the cusp of the world and the next chapter in their great adventure. “This opportunity to go to Europe feels like a big responsibility,” says Ousmane. “I feel like someone who’s done this exam and is now waiting for the result. We’ve already achieved quite a bit, but the hardest is still ahead.”
One thing is certain: Ousmane is clear about the band’s mission. “The situation of the Touareg is very difficult right now,” he declares. “Even before I played the guitar and started recording, I had this ambition to be a lawyer or you might say, an ‘advocate’. I wanted to be capable of expressing the hurt I felt in my heart, and speak out about the situation, even at the United Nations. Because we’re a people who don’t have journalists, we don’t have advocates. But it was only later that I realised that a musician can play that role.”
“What is the weakest part of any nation or people? It’s ignorance. We are stuck in our ignorance. I see the world changing, racing ahead, and leaving us behind. And the only thing that is holding us back is our ignorance. As artists, it’s our duty to make our problems known to the world, to sing songs about the nomadic life, about our traditions and culture. But above all, revolutionary songs, about what we see, about what the government is doing to our people, which makes no sense to me.”
There it is…Tamikrest, the knot, the coalition, the future.