Two of the tracks I am sharing with you in this post were on a cassette labelled "Super Biton National 81" which I bought some ten or eleven years ago in Bamako.
It was only last year that I found out I had been misled.
In meeting the musicians from Super Biton in Bamako, last October, I asked them to help me out with the titles of a couple of cassettes attributed to them which I had collected of the last thirty years. Much to my surprise they identified these two tracks, which up to then had been among my favourite "Biton" tracks, as being performed not by Super Biton from Segou, but by Orchestre Bronkoni* from Niono!
The name rang a bell. I had heard of this orchestra in 1988 during my visit to the last of the old style Biennales in Bamako. Two years later I even ventured down to Niono, partly to retrieve some music by this mysterious group, and partly because others had pointed the small town of Niono out as a "hotspot" for traditional Bambara and Sarakolé music. Disappointingly I only found a disproportionate amount of Sudanese music (largely due to the presence of a Sudanese medic, I was told), and some Dutch (agricultural) development aid workers.
In the meantime the name "Bronkoni de Niono" appears to be almost exclusively associated with one artist: Adama Yalomba, who seems to have been touring in Europe (and perhaps also other parts of the world). Apparently he has been a member of this orchestra at one - undefined (!) - point. As seems to be common on the web, all references are indiscriminately copied (and often even without bothering to change the wording).
I am told he is not the only musician with a history with Bronkoni. But I am sure Vieux Paré (video!) is not as well known in the west, so you won't find as many references linking him to the Niono orchestra.
Getting back to the music, even now I have a hard time not associating this music with the legendary Super Biton orchestra. These two songs are of such a high standard, and so brilliantly executed, that it seems hard to imagine them as originating from another source. The opening lines are 100% in the Biton style, with a superb horn section sliding in over the guitar intro. A spine-tingling opening usually only to be found with the music of Biton.
On the other hand it can be seen as an indication of the general - exceptionally high - level of the Malian orchestras, during their 'Golden Years' in the 1970s and 1980s.
Both songs feature elements which can also be found with other Malian orchestras, such as the female impersonation (in "Pary-Mary") and the 'underground' organ (in "Kômon Foli").
But I for one certainly would love to hear more from and by this great orchestra.
Two songs by Bronkoni de Niono
As a foretaste of things to come, I am adding a track which I recorded myself at the Biennale in 1988. The track is by the orchestra representing the district of Bamako: Bamansaba de Bamako. The photo on the right taken during this concert should give you an idea of the circumstances during this concert on September 11, 1988 at the Cinema Rex in the center of Bamako (which no longer exists).
In a future post I hope to write more about the competition of the "Orchestres Modernes" of the 1988 Biennale.
Bamasaba de Bamako - "Danaya Kouma"
* Toussaint Siané wrote "M'Brokoni", and Florent Mazzoleni "Boronkoni", but it's all the same orchestra...