November 07, 2011


I returned from the symposium - or 'colloque' - in Bamako last weekend, but still haven't been able to digest all the impressions and information from this highly compressed (only one week) but absolutely fascinating meeting. The highlights of this inspiring gathering were too many to deal with in one post, so I intend to dedicate several posts to these.

I am planning to post images of a brilliant concert by the legendary orchestra Super Biton, led by Mama Sissoko, who demonstrated he must be counted as one of the most outstanding guitarists in West-African music.

Then there will be a post dedicated to the fantastic research done by Vincent Kenis (who unfortunately was unable to attend the colloque), Césarine Sinatu Bolya and a young Congolese whose name I forgot to write down. They interviewed 'survivors' (musicians and mélomanes) from the golden era of Congolese music, i.e. the 1950s and early 1960s. This includes Paul Mwanga (photo right), who, contrary to what I wrote in my post about the song "Mokolo Nakokufa", is clearly not dead, - or at least was still very much alive at the time of the interview some five years ago.

More mysteries were resolved (and others added...). I was able to retrieve the titles of some unreleased Super Biton tracks, which I also hope to share with you in the near future. I found out more about the Malian lamellophone about which I reported a short while ago.

Other highlights of the colloque included a performance in the restaurant of the Institut Français by a group of azmaris from Ethiopia, which led to a remarkable encouter between a masengo and a sokou (photo right)... I intend to post a few videos of this encounter.

Then there were two very short but delightful performances by John Collins, the eminent expert on highlife music in general (and Ghanian music in particular). Unfortunately on Thursday John received news that his house in Accra had been hit by the floods which destroyed parts of the city. It seems likely (but I have had no confirmation of this) that his music archive has been damaged.... I will keep you informed.
We had some interesting discussions about the influence of the Kru sailors on the musics of west and central africa. No doubt this will lead to another post...

The presentations during the colloque gave plenty of food for thought. I was particularly interested in Lucy Duran's presentation about the phenomenon of the "sumu" (soirée), and the domination of female singers in the Malian music scene (in Mali, that is...). I will certainly come back to this, - and probably soon.
Others. like Ariel de Bigault and Uchenna Ikonne (of the Comb and Razor blog), surprised me with presentations packed with information on subjects about which I know little or nothing.

I could go on about the meeting with experts like Francis Falceto (of the brilliant Ethiopiques series), Wolfgang Bender (the author of - amongst others - the classic "Sweet Mother, Modern African Music", who in his presentation spoke about a subject which is very close to my heart: the archiving and preservation of African musics) and Gérald Arnaud (a francophone expert on yoruba music). I am sure I will dedicate posts to subjects about which they talked.

As I wrote, the programme was very compact. I would have loved to have talked more with South African lawyer, radio presenter and researcher Richard Haslop, who in his excellent presentation on South African music not only came up with some intriguing musical examples, but also appeared to have a fine nose (or ear) for good music in general.
The same goes for prolific writer (he will be finishing books about Malian and Burkinabe music very shortly, and has just published "Afro Pop, L'Âge D'Or Des Grands Orchestres Africains") and almost manic record (vinyl) collector Florent Mazzoleni, who I assume was mainly responsible, or at least instrumental, for my invitation to the colloque, and whom I certainly expect to meet more often (assuming he will be in Europe long enough).

And, of course, it was a great pleasure to meet 'my brother from the other end of the world': Graeme Counsel. We were fortunate enough to - again (after our visit to the first new-style Semaine Nationale in 2001) - share some memorable experiences in Bamako, one of which was the 'excursion' to a performance by one of the new style Apollo groups, Les Frères Dembélé, fronted by a very convincing female singer with a voice somewhere between Tata Bambo and Coumba Sidibé (photo left). This excursion too will be the subject of a post.

I am sure you have understood by now that it was a great meeting. I met many others, who I will mention in future posts. But special thanks must go to Lucien Roux (photo right), the 'directeur adjoint' of the Institut Français, who together with his very friendly staff not only organised the meeting but also proved to be a very pleasant and warm host.

More soon......

I had planned to post this video before leaving for Bamako, but just didn't have the time. It seemed a suitable way to get into the mood for a trip to Bamako. The video is by that almost archetypal Malian musician, 'Tasidoni' Karamoko Keita. This video from 1986 is not of the same exceptional image quality as the one I posted earlier, but is in my opinion musically more exiting. The title, "Randevou Ma Gne", seems to be a misspelling of "Rendezvous magnin" (magnin = bad).


grooVemonzter said...

Amazing video. Thank you always. Cheers from Los Angeles.

Anonymous said...

You have a way of making us feel like we were with you all along....Fascinating experience I must say, hoping to hear more of the same.


TontonJovo said...

Very interesting. Looking forward to the books about African orchestras. And I like to know more about today's music of Mali.