I first met Zoumana Tereta when he took part in a rather prestigious project called "Fura, Opera Bambara", which toured through the Netherlands in March 1999. I remember it was a miserable day, - cold, wet (see photo on the right).
My interest in the tour was drawn not only by the fact I had been phoned by the producer Abdoulaye Diarra, but also because my friends Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré (see previous posts on this blog) and Zani Diabaté (see particularly this post) were participating. It actually was the first time I saw Flani dance without Alou Fané. Because he was not only singing, but also dancing.
Besides these stars from the Djata Band the Opera feature two great names from Malian comic theatre & television: Habib Dembelé, better known as "Guimba", and Michel Sangaré. Leading lady in the production was Guimba's wife, singer Fantani Touré. You can find the full line-up here (unfortunately only in Dutch, but I guess you can still sort out the names..).
We saw them perform in Amstelveen and a few days later in Utrecht, where we joined them afterwards for a chat and a drink. They were staying in a somewhat bleak motel outside of Utrecht. To liven things up Flani suggested they would play a bit of music. I have posted one track of this session in the tribute to Zani (#10). If I remember correctly Zoumana himself suggested he would do one of his own songs. I was surprised about how familiar his voice sounded to me when he started singing "Sira Mougoulé" ("the well made path"), accompanying himself on the soku, the bambara fiddle.
I have since wondered about this. I had never heard him sing before, but still it seemed to me as if I had. His voice is well-matched with the instrument of which he is the undisputed master. Zoumana, by the way, disputes the suggestion that the soku has its origin in Wassoulou (as I see is also claimed on wikipedia). According to him the roots of the instrument are in Segou, and in the bambara music of Segou.
When I heard Zoumana Tereta play and sing again, a few days later at my own house, it dawned on me that I was listening to a voice from the past, a survivor from another era. The era of artists like Bazoumana Sissoko, Koni Coumaré, Fanta Damba and Tara Bouaré. An era of artists that had not succumbed to the (at times narrow-minded) taste of western moneymen. An era in which traditional music began the transition from the live performance in front of real people to the still images recorded in the sterile surroundings of a studio.
Zoumana has played with everybody. In the eighties and nineties he played with Sali Sidibé, he replaced Aliou Traoré in Oumou Sangaré's band and in Badèma National, he performed and recorded with Bassekou Kouyaté, with Toumani Diabaté, with that sympathetic Samba Touré (who appears to have his own YouTube channel - or channels?), in fact with everyone who is anybody in Malian music... He has released two albums himself, "Niger Blues" (2003) and "Soku Fola" (2008), which are perhaps not so easy to get hold of (and - again - please correct me if I'm wrong).
Last October I saw him again. During a performance by Ethiopian azmaris (subject of a later post!) at the Patio, the - excellent - restaurant of the Institut Français (or the Centre Culturel Français or CCF as most Malians continue to call it) on October 26, 2011 he intervened, joined in. While it was interesting to see the merging of pentatonic styles, I was more interested to see him perform solo, - 12 years later.
I managed to record one or two of the songs he performed. He seemed very self-assured, matured, compared to 1999. And more extrovert too. It was clear that he had grown in stature in the last decade.
Seeing him unfortunately also filled me with nostalgia for my two friends who since those sessions in 1999 had passed away...
In the video you may note Lucy Duran reacting to the praises of Zoumana. Sitting to the left of me and noticeable at the end is Momo, the algerian (via Denmark and other parts of the world) host of the Patio.
* You may be interested to know that the 'percussion instrument' you can hear in both sessions is actually a box of matches. The instrumentalist is comedian Michel Sangaré.
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