October 02, 2011


For those in Bamako, Mali, from October 24 to 29 there is a chance to meet some of the experts on African music during a symposium organised by the Centre Culturel Français in Bamako. And I will be there too, not so much an expert as an experienced amateur (and/or 'dabbler').

For me it will be a chance to meet some people again. Graeme Counsel and I only meet in Bamako, and it will be just over ten years since we last met on the occasion of the first Semaine Nationale des Arts et de la Culture, which took place from September 11 to 21, 2001. But some sadness will also be inevitable, as many of my musical friends will be missing, - and missed. Daouda 'Flani' Sangaré, Zani Diabaté, Ali 'Farka' Touré: they have all passed away.

For those who are unable to attend, I will attempt to report on the event when I get back.

All this has little or nothing to do with the cassette I would like to share with you in this post. This cassette has presented a mystery to me since I got it in the early 1990s. I have no idea what ensemble, troupe or group is playing, and I can only guess what the titles are. The sleeve carries no information apart from the title "Gao Thonville". And I am pretty sure that by the last name they actually mean "Thionville", a town in the north-east of France near the German border.

Apparently Thionville is twinned with Gao. This 'jumelage' was started in 1986, was suspended in 1992 (as a result of the Tuareg rebellion) and resumed in 1999.

My guess is that this cassette is a result of the enthusiasm of the initial twinning. This enthusiasm is reflected in the musical content. Or perhaps "love" is a better word to describe the general feeling (sorry) of the music.

The songs appear to be entirely in the Sonrai (or Songhai or Songhoi) tradition, which is no wonder given the history of Gao as the capital of the Sonrai empire. Perhaps you even recognise track B3 as a version of "Tamala (Maïga)", the first song of the Songhai lp in the "Premiere Anthologie de la Musique Malienne" on Bärenreiter-Musicaphon. Compared to this, the version on this cassette is much smoother, less earthy, and this is largely a result of the strange instrument which plays a leading role on this cassette. You may be tempted at first to think it is a kind of balafon. A smaller type perhaps. But listening to the first notes on side B it becomes clear that it must be a kind of lamellophone or thumb piano. This instrument, plus the njarka (fiddle), and the proud singing of the girls' chorus make this cassette one that could claim a permanent place in your musical memory, - as it has done with me....

Gao Thonville (cassette)


Anonymous said...

Hi Stefan

a great one about that rather rare music!

I agree, it's a sanza or mbira in b1.

As for b4:
I'm sure I have that female voice on some other album, without the singers name - but need to search first.

Must be well known - quite a noticable voice.

All the best for the symposium.


Anonymous said...

Again you get my heart rate up, nothing but start listening to the cassette it have fully digested me, is truly a magical recording.
I have the feeling to recognize many of the songs.
At the a2 song seems a very young Fissa Maiga,the a3 Hasseye Sarre is playing Nyarka (monocorde), I already found before the kalimba in Mali, I have some old video, even one of Ali Farka accompanied by a kalimba.
There is also a version of Ali Farka singin Tamala and a new one of Ami Wassidje singing very similar to this cassette.
Continue to listen...



Anonymous said...

Sefan this is a personal message that can be published or not-you judge

this is very close to my heart too
and is guaranteeing to offer much pleasure in the future.I thank you again for another wonderful offer.i took the liberty for my listening purposes to remove some of the noise and tape hiss.I send you the result hopping that it will please you.You can do whatever you want with it.As for the mysterious lamellophone(s)-I can hear two different sized "kalimbas" in b1 ,the most prominent bass sounding one , must be a kind of marimbula



thank you
and have a very nice time in Bamako

Anonymous said...

Re; the Kalimba

On the CD Mali Timbuktu, from the benkadi foli series, the 2nd song, "Kormola" has a Kalimba as well, only instrument in that song, beside a very gentle handclapping. Beautifull!

The CDs box, not the booklet shows inside a round Kalimba-type instrument, with 7 keys, and a resonator made out of wood hold together by a metal ring.


Anonymous said...

Found the name now; its Bigini for the lamellophone:

"L'histoire des Bella se confond, dans une large mesure, à la fois avec celle des Tuareg et celle des Sonraï. Cette situation ne permet pas d'établir une distinction nette entre leurs différentes productions musicales.
L'instrument principal qu'on trouve chez les Bella est le tende ; 'mortier' en bois qu'on recouvre de peau en cas de besoin. A cela s'ajoute le bigini, une lamellophone à 7 lamelles de type sanza, qui semble être d'introduction récente. "

Source: http://maliba.8m.com/Musique/tuareg.htm


Anonymous said...

Right, my friend Sonraï told me that this is an instrument somewhat forgotten today but was once the most widely used by Songhai minstrel for his work, always accompanying their songs with the Biguine (as we speak in Spanish would be Bigin).

It seems to be songs from the Troupe of Gao from different periods, except the last one is the Troupe of Toumbouctou ( the variation in the language betrays them).

My friend also helped create the titles.

1a Les habitants de Gao,saluent Thionville.
2a Ni boro dio itchi mana,ma na mam.
3a Houmaïssa (Khoumaïssa).
4a Goy
5a Mairey goy koye.

1b Wochie Maïga.
2b Ganda wani
3b Tamala
4b Haira foutu
5b I foutou ma ye

Anonymous said...

(in Spanish would be Biguín)

Anonymous said...

great Ngoni
to have the Troupe of Gao and the titles identified!

Could you please ask your Sonraï friend, if he knows Seydou Boubé (or Boubey??) Touré - must be from the 70th or 80 th - and the Gao area.

Taking about Gao:
The Super 11, Achalal-tape, Stefan posted here a while ago, has - following a Sonraï-friend of mine - some speed-problems, as he knew the rhytmes but the speed didn't fittet to them. So the incorrect speed might have created the distortions.


Anonymous said...

In a3 song says, we want Khoumeissa (Takamba old way).

As I heard these choirs I knew that I had heard before,now I know where it was. Takamba

WrldServ said...

@Ngoni: As always, muchas gracias for your research!! And thank you to your friend as well.

I will see if I can dig up some more wonders during my trip to Mali...

Anonymous said...

This tape is still with me and I think it will continue telling me new things.
Today I want to point out that the Troupe of Tumbouctou song 5b. I foutou ma ye, is the same that is called Djarii ber in the Sidi Touré album Sahel Folk, I almost would say that they are also his voice and his guitar (for me)in the Gao tape.
My friend agrees about the voice of Fissa Maiga.