April 14, 2011


Ballaké at the Harlem Bar, 1994 (photo: Rob Lokin)
While searching on the net for a better copy of the sleeve of this album I stumbled upon many examples of disinformation about this star of Burkinabé music. Sometimes the fragments of disinformation get combined in copying. I read for example that he was a founding member of the Horoya Band de Ségou.
I don't claim to have the final truth when it comes to the biography of Amadou Traoré dit Ballaké, but given the testimony from Guinean artists gathered by Graeme Counsel it seems unlikely that he was a member of the Horoya Band (an orchestra originally from Kankan, Guinea), let alone of the/an orchestra from Ségou, Mali. The confusion may have arisen from the name of the orchestra he did join: the Bafing Jazz from Mamou, Guinea.

More biographic detail in my earlier post here.

I was reminded recently that this album has so far not been posted on any of the (fortunately numerous) blogs dedicated to African music. I have to admit I am not able to follow all the blogs, so I still may be wrong. But it seems such a great omission that I felt it my duty almost to step in, and share this classic album by one of my musical heroes.

The album is another, and perhaps even the best, example of Ballaké's street credibility. He follows the trend to add elements of funk, James Brown and afrobeat to his music, but still manages to remain authentically Burkinabé. What may appear as pure funk, is in fact based on existing (mainly Mossi) traditional rhythms. As for the lyrics, Ballaké is - as always - inspired by the ordinary man and woman in the street. The "bar konon mousso" (literally "bar bird woman") refers to the women serving in bars. Ballaké sings about the hardships they have to suffer and the 'excursions' they have to make to earn a few extra francs. Going by this article (unfortunately only in french) their situation - over 30 years later - remains unchanged.
I especially like the way in which Ballaké describes his own position in relation to these "birds". The bar kono mousso tells him: "Ballaké leave me alone. You don't have money. Musician, that's nobody*. You're a poor boy."

I'm sure the other songs on this album have similar - or perhaps even more notable - lyrical highlights.

Musically this is no less of a treasure trove. It may take a while for the penny to drop with some of these songs, but when it does I am sure the whole album will embed itself in your musical memory forever. The brilliantly manic "Nabacouboury", the head-over-heels "Dounignamou", the almost Guadeloupean "Balake Ya Mariama", they all have one thing in common: the powerful presence of the great Amadou Ballaké.

Sacodis LS 8-78 or here (MF)

Going through my archives, I discovered a copy of an older version of "Bar Konon Mousso". Despite the rather scratchy condition of this single, released on the Club Voltaïque du Disque label, I am inclined to prefer this version to the version on the Sacodis lp. The tempo seems more fitting to the theme of the song, and the ambience is more 'bar-like'. The lyrics appear to be exactly the same as the later version. The condition of the vinyl is more annoying on the A-side "Absetou", especially as this song has some (seemingly?) nice instrumental bits.

Club Voltaïque du Disque CVD 44 or here (MF)

*"c'est pas quelqu'un", where a "quelqu'un" is a 'somebody', and a "grand quelqu'un" is an important person.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this one !! I've been wanting to listen to it for a long time. Best -CAUMBINHO

Jaime said...

This is a major post, thank you so much.

oro said...

Merci confrère pour ce sublime album de mon héros, aussi. Certains morceaux font parti de la compilation sortie sur Oriki Music qui n'a jamais connue de succès lors de sa sortie, incroyable...

bolingo69 said...

Thank you for the Ballaké Stefan!
Very nice!

Alex Holden said...

Are there any more Bafing Jazz recordings out there?
I've only heard three or four songs, but their tracks on Discotheque 71 are great.
Any info on the guitarist in Bafing who plays on "Toubaka"?


trumpetaaa said...

this record is sooooooo wonderful
thanks X 100000000

paska said...

Thanks a million! Very nice!!!

Anonymous said...

This recording has finally convinced me of Balake's merits. It's been in heavy rotation since downloading, and will continue to be so. Thank you for this, as well as all the music you share, and for your efforts to place the music in it's cultural context.
John A.

Anonymous said...

Dear WorldService,
In the rush to get everything available on the web, before the extremists hold complete control, I found this treasure. I must say that I truly, deeply, appreciate your efforts, as well as GlobalGroove's (where I post things more frequently) and Orogod's (I still owe him a word or two). I have since fallen in love with "Nabacouboury", it's one of those songs that changes one's life! Of course, I am Latin and am probably exaggerating (although I truly do not think so), but would like to thank you, while I am listening to it. I also really enjoyed "Keleya", by Alou Fané, but somehow I think this is even better.
Grande abraço from Rio! Fabricio.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but I will say a few words more... This reminds me of, when I was in my mid-20s (yes, that late: around here in Brazil such things are not so widespread, we lack tradition), I found out about Nelson Cavaquinho. It has some rough side to it, that causes a strange feel at first, but that resonates deeply after a while. I will certainly get a copy of the book you mentioned elsewhere about Burkinabé music, as soon as I can. Dank u, Fabricio.

BarryB said...

I've got to say--I started sampling an album and a couple of singles of Balake, and immediately started downloading the rest you offer. He's really great; and I don't get the feeling he's so much eclectic, as he absorbs other styles into his own unique perspective. This is truly wonderful music, and thank you for offering it.

Anonymous said...

Complete confirmation of your opinion of Balake. He's one of the great ones. My wife's more appreciative of Nigerian highlife, but I'll take just about anything Balake recorded, and hear it repeatedly. Thanks again, as I remarked above, for placing so much of his excellent music up here for others to find, and enjoy.

WrldServ said...

@glinka21: I have been informed that he is still active. In fact, I hear a new album is being prepared.

Something to look forward to in these bleak & barren times!