I would like to start this post with a video of the concert by Orchestre Super Biton. This - in my opinion historic - concert took place at the Institut Français in Bamako on October 24, - i.e. on the evening of the first day of the colloque.
Unaware of any seating arrangments, we (Graeme Counsel, John Collins and me) went and sat down in the middle of the first row. Just before the concert began, the Malian Ministre de la Culture, Hamane Niang, made his entry surrounded by his bodyguards. John, to the right of me, was obviously sitting in the seat that was meant for his excellency. But the minister made no attempt to claim his privilege and sat down next to John, and subsequently proceeded to noticeably (but in a dignified manner) enjoy the concert.
This video was recorded with a smaller camera (hence the movement), with mono audio. I am still trying to correct the slight distortion on the songs I recorded (in stereo) with my other camera. So there is more to come....
The title of this song is "Kara Demba". You may remember my post of the Balandzan lp and Bomama cassette, both of which feature this track. The singers in this video are, from the left, Toussaint Siané, Gaoussou 'Papus' Diarra, Aboubacar 'Cubain' Kissa and - the oldest surviving member of the group - Mamadou 'Coulou' Coulibaly. Left of Toussaint is Mama Sissoko, the lead guitarist and chef d'orchestre.
I hadn't seen Mama Sissoko perform as a member of Biton since 1988, and I have to admit I wasn't very enthousiastic about his solo projects. During the tour of 1986, which brought the orchestra to Holland, his fellow musicians complained about his tendency to prolong the guitar solos. The annoyance was one of the factors which led to chef d'orchestre Amadou 'Armstrong' Bah retiring from the orchestra, which in turn contributed to the decline of the orchestra after 1988. So it is ironical that one of the persons who was in a way co-instrumental to the disappearance of this great orchestra is now playing such a major role in its revival.
And not only through his position as chef d'orchestra.
I was particularly impressed by his very controlled and well-dosed guitar playing. I think that most of the participants of the colloque agreed that his well-tempered* guitar managed to compensate to some extent for the absence of a horn section. Or perhaps I should write: the horn section. And, please, don't get me wrong: I still hope Biton finds some good horn players to fill in the gap left by the demise of the great Amadou Bah and Mamadou 'Blick' Diarra.
I hope I can correct the distortion on the other videos so I can share some more examples of the brilliance of this great Malian orchestra.
In the meantime I would like to share with you two examples of Mama Sissoko's guitar playing from the 1980's.
The first was recorded in Amsterdam on October 2, 1986 by Dave van Dijk for VPRO radio. Super Biton did three concerts in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Especially during the concert in Rotterdam Mama was virtually instoppable, also as a result of the audience reaction.
Tere (Super Biton, Melkweg Amsterdam, October 2, 1986) [FLAC]
The second was recorded by myself two years later in Segou, during a concert for president Moussa Traoré, which was recorded by Malian television. This song was actually a 'prelude' to the concert, - which incidentally was attended by no more than 30 persons, including the technicians of the ORTM. The singer of this version of a Malinke classic is Papa Gaoussou Diarra.
Moriba Kaba (Super Biton, Segou November 19, 1988) [FLAC]
I intend to post the complete recordings of the Segou concert in a future post.
* I used this analogy intentionally, as Mama is trying to play in two tonal scales: the heptatonic of the traditional Malinké music and the 'classic' Malinké guitar and the pentatonic of (amongst others) the traditional Bambara music and the classic Bambara ngoni.