Continuing the story of that great Malian orchestra, Super Biton de Ségou, I would like to share with you two cassettes released as 'solo projects' by members of the orchestra.
Both cassettes are from the early 1990s, i.e. the period that can best described as the doldrums, after the stormy European tour and the desastrous last Biennale. The orchestra was in a state of serious decay, which had set in after the retirement of Amadou 'Armstrong' Bah (see also in this post).
Singer Mamadou Doumbia a.k.a. 'Percé' moved to Paris. I understand that he has since retired from music, although I have heard other reports that he performs infrequently at weddings and sumu's* ( or 'soirées'). To many his name is firmly linked to those two 'golden' albums released on the Mali Kunkan label, with evergreens like 'Taasi Doni', 'Nyeleni' and 'Nyangaran Foli'. I have been told that many of these hits were researched and contributed by Percé, but I have to add that my source, Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré, may have been slightly biased, as he and Percé were good friends.
It is clear that this cassette comes nowhere near the level of Super Biton, and the fact that it was recorded in Paris doesn't help either. I am reminded of Amadou Bah's words (in reference to Salif Keita) that you can't expect to remain true to your culture if you go and live somewhere else. The music on this cassette breathes the stress of Parisian life, combined with an undetermined shallowness which tends to prevail in a lot of Parisian recordings of African (and not only Malian) artists.
I think the cassette doesn't do justice to the great singer Percé was when he was a member of Biton.
Camara CK7 047 (or CK 047)
I met Aboubacar Kissa dit 'Cubain' in 1990. He didn't take part in the European tour of 1986, as a result of a dispute with the regional authorities in charge of the orchestra (according to some sources about his drinking habits). I was sitting in a bar in Bamako with Flani, waiting for Zani Diabaté, when Cubain walked in followed by Zani. He and Zani joined us, and we ordered more drinks. After a while a young guy playing an acoustic guitar came up to our table and, recognising Zani, started playing one of the Djata Band's tunes. Badly, I must add. Zani got somewhat annoyed, at which the youngster remarked that his guitar was a bit out of tune. Zani asked to hand it to him and proceeded to play the opening chords of "Farima". "Nothing wrong with the guitar", he noted, and switched to his signature tune "Diabaté Zani". Flani and Cubain soon picked up the vocals.
The young guitarist, by the way, recorded his first album not much later. He, Lobi Traoré, died of a heart attack in June 2010...
I am always reminded of this incident listening to the last track of this cassette. Although named "Maliba" it is, of course, exactly the same song as "Diabaté Zani".
This, unfortunately, does not mean that it gets anywhere near Zani's version. Compared to Percé's Parisian effort this cassette does, however, has some redeeming qualities.
First of all, it was recorded in Mali. And this is manifest, not only by the more relaxed atmosphere of the recordings, but also because of the somewhat makeshift character of the instrumentation. The synthesizer is downright irritating, and annoyingly prominent in all songs.
Positive features of the cassette are Cubain's singing and his choice of songs. He includes three songs from the Biton repertoire: "Diagneba" and "Garaba Mama" (see my earlier post), plus "So Karafe" from the "Nyangaran Foli"/Mali Kunkan lp. The execution of these songs is at times - to put it bluntly - bizarre. "So Karafe" is given an unsettling reggae treatment, while "Garaba Mama" can be recommended as a song to get the last drunks out off a bar at closing time.
Nevertheless, all in all, I prefer Cubain's cassette to Percé's. I was very happy to see Cubain with Super Biton in October last year. That's where he is at his best, as he proved during the concert at the Institut Français (of which I'll post more very soon). Toussaint Siané confirmed that Percé is still in France and has no intention to rejoin Biton, - which is a pity.....
Oumar Kouba OKP 004 (or OKP 004)
I have received a report from Bamako, by the way, that Super Biton were due to play at the Festival "Les Voix de Bamako", but in the end didn't. I am waiting to hear why.
*more about this phenomenon in a future post.
EDIT January 22, 2012: Ngoni sends me this video of the first song (gracias!) and points out that Djeneba Seck is in the chorus:
Zulu violin dance from the mountains
10 hours ago