The first regional orchestra of the Mopti region of Mali was the Bani Jazz, named after the river that joins the Niger near Mopti. Founded after the coup d'état of 1968, Ali 'Farka' Touré was the first chef d'orchestre. He was also the first to exploit the enormous variety of traditional music from the Mopti region in a modern orchestra, with tracks like "Manden Po".
According to Ali (in an interview in 1989) things turned sour after two years, due to his relationship with Sory Bamba. When he discovered he lacked the support of the regional authorities, Ali left the orchestra. And the orchestra was taken over by Sory Bamba and renamed Orchestre Kanaga de Mopti.
The lp Kanaga recorded in 1977 for the Mali Kunkan label is certainly one of their best. It is also, unfortunately, one of the few in which the orchestra is credited and which is not -like the albums released on the Songhoy and Sonafric label- presented as a solo project by self-acclaimed superstar Sory Bamba.
I am somewhat cautious in labelling it The Best, because I suspect there may be more by Kanaga which at least I haven't (fully) discovered. After discovering some fragments of tracks on a cassette I bought in Bamako, I have been looking for more; but so far I have only found more of the same...
I am sure you will understand my frustration about this when you hear the two and a half minute fragment I have added as a bonus.
I have several versions of this lp and can't make up my mind which one to post. So here are two versions for you to download: the first is from a cassette I bought in 2000 and is at least almost complete (there is a bit missing in the track "Kanaga") and of a consistent quality.
Mali Kunkan KO 77.04.15
The second file consist of the best versions of several sources. The tracks "Gambari", "Sory Bamba" and "Sare Mabo" are so clean that one could be inclined to think they were reworked from an original tape. I have no idea if this is the case.
Mali Kunkan KO 77.04.15 (alternative) plus bonus track
EDIT November 10, 2012: The links have been renewed.