Archive for the ‘Mali centre of the musical world’ Category


September 14, 2013

Readers with too much time on their hands would be aware of the electoral shambles which took place in Tubbyland last weekend. Following a subsequent exchange with Justrecently, I’ve decided to form my own political party grounded in the key realities of the 21st century. As of yet to arrive at a name which will capture the essence of this new vehicle of political power, and readers are invited to make polite suggestion.

Key policy positions include:

The incorporation of the Pirate Party’s raft of left libertarian proposals for the management of the digital economy and intellectual property rights;

Non alcoholic ginger beer will be the only beverage served at State functions;

Julian Assange will be given the Order of Australia and installed as Governor General;

All males will take mandatory Creative Cooking Classes beginning in their primary school years;

Full civic rights for gay, trannie and transgenderist folk;

The State will take responsibility for the quality and distribution of all Old School Drugs (marijuana, LSD and high-end opiates). Individuals involved in the distribution of party/designer drugs will be prosecuted with extreme prejudice;

All web lords will be given full journalistic accreditation with the aim breaking the existing sodomistic relationship between mainstream media and the political classes;

All Australian country music will be banned forthwith. No ifs or buts. Its plain fucking embarrassing. (And there is a shattering backstory to this proposal.) As an adjunct to this proscription, Australia will establish a strategic relationship with Mali and other Sahelian states with the aim of re-engineering the musical taste of all citizens here in Tubbyland;

Mainland China would be classified as a Nation State Gaming the Rest of the World and treated accordingly in matters of trade and Sino investment (housing and agriculture in Tubbyland).

I anticipate considerable electoral success, and am certain to capture both the donkey vote and other disenchanteds, as this new grass roots party will be generously staffed by a bevy of Japanese surfer girls.

Furthermore, ASP Pro Surfer Nao Omura will be appointed Minister of Grrrl Power.

JR will be offered a ministry of his choosing, and if secret negotiations with two other weblords are successful, the electorate will have real voting options next time round.

To be sure, the above involves the renunciation of the principles of hereditary monarchy and absolutist rule (my preference), but sometimes one must consider the greater public good.

Now, to musical matters.

As young sprouts, we spent our teenage years living in a Police State, and I’m not overstating matters.

 Just before the Tower Mill police riot

Prior to Tower Mill police riot

In retrospect we should be thankful for that state of affairs, since it gave rise to great taste in all matters musical. The anthems of our teenage years were for the most part derived from Soul Music. Otis. Sam and Dave. The Four Tops. James and Bobby Purify. In fact, just about anything produced by Motown, Stax and Stax Volt. Being a bit of an Aretha fan is a hard gig sometimes, given that she covered a lot of plaintive dreck penned by the likes of Lennon McCartney, Dionne Warwick and Burt bloody Bacharach- swill of the first order.

Now, there is no denying that Chain of Fools is right up there in the pantheon of killer soul tracks. Alan Parker of The Commitments knew a centrepiece tour de force when he heard one, and he threw a ton of production dollars into his cover version.

This is Aretha at her torchiest best displaying her complete Gospel credentials. You are my Sunshine. Aretha Arrives. 1967. Perfect call and response. Understated brass. (As my producer friend Mark once advised in the studio: “How would Aretha cut it?”.)
Crank up the volume, children.

Finally, as part of this Australia-Mali pivot, this is what to expect to hear on all Tubbyland Ipods in the future:

And a nice description of the Desert Music Blues Project is found on this website.

Lot more on the net if you are interested.



August 11, 2013

The life of an Absolute Monarch is supposed to be easy. Flogging peasants, introducing new and interesting taxes, gargantuan banquets awash with alcohol, etc.

Not so, I’m afraid. Just so many projects on the go at present, one of which so overloaded me with adrenaline yesterday that it cleansed the system of decades of cholesterol.

Now, some bloggers overload their sites with cat (Felis silvestris catus) photos when experiencing a writing hiatus, but I won’t take that low path and shall provide some musical culture instead. However, before doing so, I would like to recommend Yaxue Cao’s new China Human Rights site Original content of the first order and it deserves to be supported.

Wayfaring Stranger. Jack White. The killer first track from Cold Mountain. And the rest of the CD is also worth a listen.

With Mali’s recent elections and its attempt to reconstruct itself, the infectious sound of Amadou & Marian. Mon Amour, Ma Cherie. Live.

One of the enchanting female voices of Mali, Rokia Traori.

Back to work and will be blogging again in earnest in two weeks.
Take Care.

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.

KTs Master Class…Follow-up to previous post.

September 16, 2012

When asked as a callow princeling, what were the three greatest inventions enjoyed by mankind? I wouldn’t have hesitated. Simple. The LP or long playing record for style, the automobile for travel adventure with comely companions and the hot shower to wash away previous excesses.

Today however, being older and better informed, I would simply say “the langenaria siceraria“, which is none other than the bottle gourd, opo squash, long melon or calabash. Wiki has a tremendous entry, noting that this cultivated vine has played an integral part in the genesis and migration of humanity. It has both culinary and cultural uses, and here we will be focusing on the latter.

It’s the diversity of shapes which make them so interesting

So begins the Master Class on how to make a calabash-based instrument.

Now, you could go the long way and grow a langeria siceraria which could take ages, so the happy citizens of tubbyland go online to The Gourdfather and select a calabash of their choosing. If you are US based, HERE is your link. And it you want to know why I’m such a smarty pants on the subject, THIS is the read for you, and which I’m referencing for a lot of information below. Finally, if you’re hit the links, you will realise that choosing a gourd is a bit like choosing a partner: they are all different so its a question of the type of music you wish to play.

Gourds lend themselves to the following instrumentation based on the Sacks-Hornstabel system:

Idiophones – which is to say a solid material which you hit, stamp, shake, knock together, scape, rub, pluck (mbira) and hit in a complex manner (xylophone).
Try this sample of the marimba by the African Dream Marimba Band of Capetown.

And in the same family:

Mbira or thumb piano

Mbiras come is a massive variety of styles, many to which transform into cultural objects par excellence, as evidenced by THIS google image save:

Membraphones: basically a drum of any type.

Aerophones: any gourd based intrument you blow through such as the god-awful sounding Indian pongi.

Finally, chordophones: any instrument which uses a vibrating string as its sound source.

Unquestionably, the greatest instrument in this category is the African harp-lute or Kora.

Griot Lamin Saho

Now I see that the class is not on-task: sleeping, texting and chatting up members of the opposite sex, so we will resume this afternoon.

I was going to set some homework on How a String Vibrates, but this type of math is way above my pay scale.

Afro-Centrism – Part One

September 16, 2012

Given recent unwelcome events taking place in Mali, finding a point of departure is not easy.The number of internet entries on the Sahel has increased exponentially. So let’s begin with a bit of wicki pilfering on the history side:

Mali was once part of three famed West African empires which controlled trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt, slaves, and other precious commodities.[8] These Sahelian kingdoms had neither rigid geopolitical boundaries nor rigid ethnic identities.[8] The earliest of these empires was the Ghana Empire, which was dominated by the Soninke, a Mande-speaking people.[8] The empire expanded throughout West Africa from the 8th century until 1078, when it was conquered by the Almoravids.[9]

The Mali Empire later formed on the upper Niger River, and reached the height of power in the 14th century.[9] Under the Mali Empire, the ancient cities of Djenné and Timbuktu were centers of both trade and Islamic learning.[9] The empire later declined as a result of internal intrigue, ultimately being supplanted by the Songhai Empire.[9] The Songhai people originated in current northwestern Nigeria. The Songhai had long been a major power in West Africa subject to the Mali Empire’s rule.[9] In the late 14th century, the Songhai gradually gained independence from the Mali Empire and expanded, ultimately subsuming the entire eastern portion of the Mali Empire.[9]

The Niger River which is every bit impressive as the Mekong

Mosque in background

The Malian Kingdom was organised around very sophisticated forms of social organisation and was seriously wealthy as evidenced by this entry by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ibn Battuta, the great Morrocan Berber traveller, visited Mali by foot and his account is found HERE. He gives Mali a bit of a mixed review, but had the good sense to comment on the beauty of the women. However, I suspect our Islamic version of Marco Polo was a bit of a grizzle guts and non-cosmopolitan, since his visit to China concluded thus:

China, for all its magnificence, did not please me…. When I left my lodging I saw many offensive things which distressed me so much that I stayed at home and went out only when it was necessary. When I saw Muslims it was as though I had met my family and my relatives.

Yet, even in the 20th century, Mali retained aspects of its original greatness and advanced notions of civil society. And this brings me to one of the great train journeys in the world.

The Bamako-Dacca Senegal rail link – Inaguarated in 1904 with branch lines completed in 1924.

After independence in the early sixties, the railway was jointly run by the Regie des Chemins de Fer du Mali RCFM and its Senegalese counterpart. The Malian Ministry of Information and the RCFM displayed advanced social characteristics when they formed the Super Rail Band to entertain passengers staying at The Buffet Hotel de la Gare before departing to the coast from Bamako’s railway station.

I suggest that you read the full Wiki entry on the Super Rail Band HERE – taking note of the original Cuban influences – as it contains all the musical references you will be to be aware of in order to complete your weekend homework.
Finally, I highly recommend this tremendous photo gallery assembled by various photographers, containing as it does the only image of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare I could locate, plus the Artisans Market….many thanks.

And what is all this verbiage about?

The original (?) Super Rail Band.

Tons of youtube entries when you include the many luminaries such as Mory Kante and Safil Keita who passed through the Rail Band. However, the Rail Band has a much slicker sound today due to high-end French production methods.

And I leave you with two recommendations:

For a guaranteed killer introduction to the West Sahelian griot sound (Whats that KT? – back to your Wicki homwework), try this CD offering from Rough Trade . The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali and Guinea: Kora Kings and Griot Minstrels. This is the disc for you when you hold your next block party and want to test your slinky new moves on the dance floor.

And to understand what is taking place in Mali today, read anything by Jeremy Keenan, an independent anthropologist with decades of experience in the Sahel. Here is just one recent sample of his reporting from Al Jazeera.

If you have the time, obtain a copy of his The Dark Sahara: America’s War on Terror in Africa (Pluto Press, 2009). Densely written, but highly rewarding.

And what of the Bamako-Dacca rail link today? Well, it is basically fucked as this recent account by Rhiannon Batten for The Independent notes.

Sad, so here is a truly beautiful entry on an experiment in Malian musical cross-fertilisation written for Vanity Fair.

Contains photos to die for.

Enjoy, because the follow-up – KTs Musical Master Class – will be demanding and requiring your very best artisanal skills.