Archive for October 19th, 2012

Mali and Radio Wassoulou International

October 19, 2012

In 1994 Ry Cooder (guitarist/producer)and Ali Farke Toure (guitarist/singer) collaborated on Talking Timbuktu, a bridge which highlighted the spinal connection between the Malian and Deep South Blues traditions. I don’t have sales figures at hand, but they would have been considerable by any standard.

If you are unfamiliar with this LP, Derek Rath provides the perfect abstract in the Amazon link above, and which I recommend. And if you share an interest in both traditions, you would be aware that Charles Shaar Murray recently published his 600 plus paged tome Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century 2011 Cannogate.

All three have provided perfect sonic landscapes for those weekends when one invited friends around for an evening of relaxation and conversation. This involved a strict process. Build a serious gin and tonic, get reasonably well smoked and then go to work in the kitchen preparing an industrial-sized roast dinner. You know what I’m writing about. Perfect gravy over Waygu beef. About six types of veg. Crisp golden roast potatoes. Carrots roasted for sweetness rather than steamed. Cheese and mustard sauce on the cauliflower. Somebody else does the dishes.

And yes, that was a Kora which was discussed in a previous post. (Cloud: Mali centre of the musical world.)

Sadly, Ali Farke Toure passed away in 2006. Or, perhaps not so sadly, since where he was borne, Tombouctou is now contested by strict sharia Islamicists, The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad a heavily armed Taureg homeland movement, plus a few other militant groupings.

Judging by BBC reports last night, soon or later military forces will be sent north of Bamako to reimpose French colonial borders. Now, while I welcome any intervention which sends the Islamicists to their mythical Paradise of Multiple Virgins, unfortunately it will be the Taureg who will suffer. Western media has ignored a lot of dirty dealings in that part of the world involving US secret forces (looking for alternative energy sources as you would guess) and double dealings by the shadowy Algerian secret services.

Here I recommend anything written by Jeremy Keenan in Al Jazeera or other google links on his book Dark Sahara. Its an extremely complex story to put it mildly. And when you add land degradation in an already-incredibly harsh environment, combined with social marginalisation by the Bamako government, you just know that the Tuareg are going to get demonised in western media and then screwed by military force.

However, today our enthnographic travels take us south of this troubled zone to the Wassoulou river valley which straddles south Mali, north east Guinea and north Cote d’Iviore, one of the birth places of Blues music. And does this place punch above its weight in the Cultural Music department.

Niger River Basin

Unlike the griot or jeli tradition in Malian music culture defined thus:

A griot ( /ˈɡri.oʊ/; French pronunciation: [ɡʁi.o]) or jeli (djeli or djéli in French spelling) is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and/or musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition. As such, they are sometimes also called bards. According to Paul Oliver in his book Savannah Syncopators, “Though [the griot] has to know many traditional songs without error, he must also have the ability to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. His wit can be devastating and his knowledge of local history formidable.” Although they are popularly known as “praise singers”, griots may also use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment. WICKI

Wassoulou music is very different in that it is primarily social advice music directed at the whole community and is primarily sung by women. Not surprisingly, it focuses on child birth, male patriarchy, polygamy and arranged marriages, not to mention its great dance beat. To take an example from Fatoumata Diawara’s “Bissa” HERE.

This is such a fabulous musical genre to write about, and I haven’t even touched upon Wassoulou musical instruments yet, but shall call it a post and leave you with internet Radio Wassoulou International which is now based in Switzerland.

In addition to traditional instruments, you hear some very tasty brass lines.

Enjoy, and next Saturday we visit Bahia in Brazil, the post I set out to write before being digressed by the above.

Finally, Many Thanks to WIKI for providing such a brilliant reference base.

Postscript. Scrolling through the various African internet radio services, one is struck by the large number of Christian gospel stations. This deluge of christian moralizing goes a long way to explaining the anti-gay social attitudes which pervade many African societies. Nigeria being a case in point. Bloody obnoxious, and things are just as bad in South Africa.