November 20, 2011


This is not really a post. I am just trying to point any readers who may have missed this to the appeal made on the Afropop and the Osibisaba blog.

I am sure the original poster won't mind me quoting John Collins' appeal for help:
"Dear colleagues, supporters, fans, friends and well wishers,

As you know I have been operating the BAPMAF music archives since 1990 which was partly opened at my Bokoor House to the public in 1996 and more fully in 2007. However, devastation struck in the middle of the night of 26th Oct, 2011 in the form of a flood. This occurred over many parts of Accra due to more and more people building in or blocking water ways - so that rivers could no longer easily run into the sea. In our particular Taifa-Ofankor area this was compounded by the construction of a 3 mile section of the Kumasi highway (from Achimota to Ofankor) without adequate gutters - and also saw-millers who have been dumping sawdust in rivers and wetlands.

We residents have complained to both the Ghana National Highways Authority and the Ga District Assembly (Council) over the years to no avail Indeed the National Highways Authority told us residents that they had to build the road first before constructing the drains and that these 2 projects even fell under 2 different ministries. Furthermore, the saw-millers in the MUUS next to us, who are relative newcomer to the area, did not allow space on their adjacent land to ours for a gutter. In fact, by dumping sawdust on the drainage river (Brenyah River) they re-directed part of this river though my house and garden – which broke my wall – they are even now claiming my garden is their ‘natural’ gutter.

The resulting flooding on the 26 Oct. was unprecedented with almost 6 feet of water entering our land and 5 feet into the downstairs house and premises where some of the BAPMAF archival holdings are kept. I was in Mali at the time at an African popular music conference organized by the French Institute in conjunction with and the Malian Ministry of Culture. On returning to Ghana on the 29th I met my family perched upstairs in the BAPMAF exhibition space. They had escaped drowning by 2 minutes due to a timely call from a neighbor upstream who noticed the water build up and got them to leave the house and flee upstairs.

Some of the losses are as follows:
• Approx 10-20% 0f BAPMAF archival holding lost. Some we are still trying to dry and salvage.
• Loss of all electronic equipment including materials donated a few years ago to the BAPMAF archives by the German Goethe Institute for a digitization project.
• Loss of car, backup generator, various pumps, etc.

The house and area is now too dangerous for human habitation (i.e. residential purposes ). All this due to the short sightedness of the government in not insisting the National Highways Authority build storm gutters alongside the highway they have been constructing for seven years (which incidentally also went under water on the 26th Oct). And also the government’s inability to stop individuals or saw-millers etc from building on or blocking natural water flows.

As this is not likely to be resolved in the near future I have no recourse but to remove myself and my family from the house that myself and my father before me have been living since the 1970’s – and find rented property where we will not be drowned like rats.

So my immediate plans are as follows:
- Find temporary storage space for the BAPMAF archives so that at some point in the future these can become available again to myself and the general public.
- Find temporary accommodation relatively near the university at Legon.
- Build circa 200 feet of reinforced concrete wall with gravel embankment to protect the Bokoor/BAPMAF proper from future flooding – so I and the BAPMAF archives can move back to upstairs properties. This alone will cost around 7000$.
- To replace lost equipment, computers, car, scanners, cameras, digital record player, stabilizers, chargers and 12 volt battery backup system, slide projector, etc.
- At some point I will write to various individuals and organizations that donated general books, videos and DVD’s and music materials to BAPMAF to send me, if possible, copies.
- To replace the broken wall and add an embankment to it - or possibly even build a wall and embankment closer to my house and the BAPMAF premises. Even though I will lose my garden this will keep the building premises intact - so that in the future and the government demolishes obstacles to the water course, stops the saw-miller dumping saw dust in rivers and get the Highways Authority to build a storm drain alongside the Achimota-Ofankor Highway --I could at least use the BAPMAF premises again.

If you have any suggestions as how I could proceed – including any agencies, individuals, organizations who could assist financially or by replacing lost books and music this would be most appreciated. Letters of sympathy would also be most welcome.

Yours sincerely
John Collins (Prof).
POSTAL ADDRESS: P.0 Box LG 385, Legon , Accra, GHANA

If money is sent to help rebuild please send it to my UK bank account at follows.

NATWEST, Tottenham Court Rd Branch
P.O.BOX 2EA 45 Tottenham Court Rd. London WIT 2EA
Reward Reserve Account of E .J. Collins
Account number 26592258
Sort Code 56-00-31
Swift code NWBK GB 2L
IBAN number GB16 NWBK 56003126 5922 58

November 13, 2011

Mama Sissoko

I would like to start this post with a video of the concert by Orchestre Super Biton. This - in my opinion historic - concert took place at the Institut Français in Bamako on October 24, - i.e. on the evening of the first day of the colloque.

Unaware of any seating arrangments, we (Graeme Counsel, John Collins and me) went and sat down in the middle of the first row. Just before the concert began, the Malian Ministre de la Culture, Hamane Niang, made his entry surrounded by his bodyguards. John, to the right of me, was obviously sitting in the seat that was meant for his excellency. But the minister made no attempt to claim his privilege and sat down next to John, and subsequently proceeded to noticeably (but in a dignified manner) enjoy the concert.

This video was recorded with a smaller camera (hence the movement), with mono audio. I am still trying to correct the slight distortion on the songs I recorded (in stereo) with my other camera. So there is more to come....

The title of this song is "Kara Demba". You may remember my post of the Balandzan lp and Bomama cassette, both of which feature this track. The singers in this video are, from the left, Toussaint Siané, Gaoussou 'Papus' Diarra, Aboubacar 'Cubain' Kissa and - the oldest surviving member of the group - Mamadou 'Coulou' Coulibaly. Left of Toussaint is Mama Sissoko, the lead guitarist and chef d'orchestre.

I hadn't seen Mama Sissoko perform as a member of Biton since 1988, and I have to admit I wasn't very enthousiastic about his solo projects. During the tour of 1986, which brought the orchestra to Holland, his fellow musicians complained about his tendency to prolong the guitar solos. The annoyance was one of the factors which led to chef d'orchestre Amadou 'Armstrong' Bah retiring from the orchestra, which in turn contributed to the decline of the orchestra after 1988. So it is ironical that one of the persons who was in a way co-instrumental to the disappearance of this great orchestra is now playing such a major role in its revival.
And not only through his position as chef d'orchestra.

I was particularly impressed by his very controlled and well-dosed guitar playing. I think that most of the participants of the colloque agreed that his well-tempered* guitar managed to compensate to some extent for the absence of a horn section. Or perhaps I should write: the horn section. And, please, don't get me wrong: I still hope Biton finds some good horn players to fill in the gap left by the demise of the great Amadou Bah and Mamadou 'Blick' Diarra.

I hope I can correct the distortion on the other videos so I can share some more examples of the brilliance of this great Malian orchestra.

In the meantime I would like to share with you two examples of Mama Sissoko's guitar playing from the 1980's.
The first was recorded in Amsterdam on October 2, 1986 by Dave van Dijk for VPRO radio. Super Biton did three concerts in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Especially during the concert in Rotterdam Mama was virtually instoppable, also as a result of the audience reaction.

Tere (Super Biton, Melkweg Amsterdam, October 2, 1986) [FLAC]

The second was recorded by myself two years later in Segou, during a concert for president Moussa Traoré, which was recorded by Malian television. This song was actually a 'prelude' to the concert, - which incidentally was attended by no more than 30 persons, including the technicians of the ORTM. The singer of this version of a Malinke classic is Papa Gaoussou Diarra.

Moriba Kaba (Super Biton, Segou November 19, 1988) [FLAC]

I intend to post the complete recordings of the Segou concert in a future post.

* I used this analogy intentionally, as Mama is trying to play in two tonal scales: the heptatonic of the traditional Malinké music and the 'classic' Malinké guitar and the pentatonic of (amongst others) the traditional Bambara music and the classic Bambara ngoni.

November 07, 2011


I returned from the symposium - or 'colloque' - in Bamako last weekend, but still haven't been able to digest all the impressions and information from this highly compressed (only one week) but absolutely fascinating meeting. The highlights of this inspiring gathering were too many to deal with in one post, so I intend to dedicate several posts to these.

I am planning to post images of a brilliant concert by the legendary orchestra Super Biton, led by Mama Sissoko, who demonstrated he must be counted as one of the most outstanding guitarists in West-African music.

Then there will be a post dedicated to the fantastic research done by Vincent Kenis (who unfortunately was unable to attend the colloque), Césarine Sinatu Bolya and a young Congolese whose name I forgot to write down. They interviewed 'survivors' (musicians and mélomanes) from the golden era of Congolese music, i.e. the 1950s and early 1960s. This includes Paul Mwanga (photo right), who, contrary to what I wrote in my post about the song "Mokolo Nakokufa", is clearly not dead, - or at least was still very much alive at the time of the interview some five years ago.

More mysteries were resolved (and others added...). I was able to retrieve the titles of some unreleased Super Biton tracks, which I also hope to share with you in the near future. I found out more about the Malian lamellophone about which I reported a short while ago.

Other highlights of the colloque included a performance in the restaurant of the Institut Français by a group of azmaris from Ethiopia, which led to a remarkable encouter between a masengo and a sokou (photo right)... I intend to post a few videos of this encounter.

Then there were two very short but delightful performances by John Collins, the eminent expert on highlife music in general (and Ghanian music in particular). Unfortunately on Thursday John received news that his house in Accra had been hit by the floods which destroyed parts of the city. It seems likely (but I have had no confirmation of this) that his music archive has been damaged.... I will keep you informed.
We had some interesting discussions about the influence of the Kru sailors on the musics of west and central africa. No doubt this will lead to another post...

The presentations during the colloque gave plenty of food for thought. I was particularly interested in Lucy Duran's presentation about the phenomenon of the "sumu" (soirée), and the domination of female singers in the Malian music scene (in Mali, that is...). I will certainly come back to this, - and probably soon.
Others. like Ariel de Bigault and Uchenna Ikonne (of the Comb and Razor blog), surprised me with presentations packed with information on subjects about which I know little or nothing.

I could go on about the meeting with experts like Francis Falceto (of the brilliant Ethiopiques series), Wolfgang Bender (the author of - amongst others - the classic "Sweet Mother, Modern African Music", who in his presentation spoke about a subject which is very close to my heart: the archiving and preservation of African musics) and Gérald Arnaud (a francophone expert on yoruba music). I am sure I will dedicate posts to subjects about which they talked.

As I wrote, the programme was very compact. I would have loved to have talked more with South African lawyer, radio presenter and researcher Richard Haslop, who in his excellent presentation on South African music not only came up with some intriguing musical examples, but also appeared to have a fine nose (or ear) for good music in general.
The same goes for prolific writer (he will be finishing books about Malian and Burkinabe music very shortly, and has just published "Afro Pop, L'Âge D'Or Des Grands Orchestres Africains") and almost manic record (vinyl) collector Florent Mazzoleni, who I assume was mainly responsible, or at least instrumental, for my invitation to the colloque, and whom I certainly expect to meet more often (assuming he will be in Europe long enough).

And, of course, it was a great pleasure to meet 'my brother from the other end of the world': Graeme Counsel. We were fortunate enough to - again (after our visit to the first new-style Semaine Nationale in 2001) - share some memorable experiences in Bamako, one of which was the 'excursion' to a performance by one of the new style Apollo groups, Les Frères Dembélé, fronted by a very convincing female singer with a voice somewhere between Tata Bambo and Coumba Sidibé (photo left). This excursion too will be the subject of a post.

I am sure you have understood by now that it was a great meeting. I met many others, who I will mention in future posts. But special thanks must go to Lucien Roux (photo right), the 'directeur adjoint' of the Institut Français, who together with his very friendly staff not only organised the meeting but also proved to be a very pleasant and warm host.

More soon......

I had planned to post this video before leaving for Bamako, but just didn't have the time. It seemed a suitable way to get into the mood for a trip to Bamako. The video is by that almost archetypal Malian musician, 'Tasidoni' Karamoko Keita. This video from 1986 is not of the same exceptional image quality as the one I posted earlier, but is in my opinion musically more exiting. The title, "Randevou Ma Gne", seems to be a misspelling of "Rendezvous magnin" (magnin = bad).