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.


Scott said...

Thanks for the great post.

The two-minute guitar solo that opens Moriba Kaba strikes me as a perfect embodiment of the elegant daring of modern Malian music: perfect high-wire dancing with the tradition. I think I've already listened to it thirty times and find new wonders each time.

NGONI said...

I'm really happy with the two examples, I like Mama Sissoko's guitar always, when measured and unmeasured.
I like singing Aboubacar Kissa in Tere but I was surprised in the Moriba Kaba version with a very emotional Papa Gaussou,great.
I guess he's telling a story about the great marabout of the Casamance Fodé Kaba who fought fiercely against the invading colonists.

Musiques d'Afrique said...

Thanks for the great post (and for the FLAC format).

I think the world needs more Super Biton, I know I do!

Looking forward to more posts related to Biton, and the Colloque.

reservatory said...

Beautiful stuff. THANKS.

DJ Daudi said...

Thanks for this. A really talented guitarist whose work I have always admired. I hope more people will get to hear some of him with Biton.
That Syllart album with the song Tassi Doni is pure gold.

jeanluc said...

Thank you... I recorded "Tere" from the VPRO around 1987. I don't know how often I have heard it.

Dave van Dijk did some recordings I never heard any better from those bands.

Anonymous said...

Hello All,

Just a word that Sublime Frequencies will be producing an anthology of Super Biton's music very soon! I'm currently in Segou and I have just signed a contract with the group this morning!! I'm in the process of compiling all the materials for this.
If anyone can help with extra materials, audio, etc. all would be appreciated. The group were able to lend me photos and some audio, but anymore materials will only make the production that much better!

Hisham Mayet
Sublime Frequencies

WrldServ said...

@Anonymous(a.k.a. Hisham Mayet): An anthology? Why not release all their recordings?

Personally I am getting bored with anthologies, selections and compilations. I have a strong craving for completeness.

NGONI said...


Naamou !

mangue music said...


Super Biton is one of my favourite bands ever. So when I recently found out that a concert in Holland in 1986 was recorded and (partly) broadcasted on Dutch radio (probably in '86/'87 and surely a repeat in 1994 January), started searching the net, and of course came to this page and blog where so much wonderful Biton music is presented, including one brilliant track from that '86 concert.
Well my simple question: do you have MORE from this or any other Biton concert from the mid '80s? And if so, do you like to post it here?

Thanks, "wa kelen i ni ce"

WrldServ said...

@mangue music: There will be more from Super Biton in due course. All concerts in the Netherlands in 1986 have been recorded, with varying sound & recording quality.
I was lucky enough to assist Dave van Dijk in mixing the recordings made for the VPRO at the Melkweg. Besides this, there are still recordings I made in Ségou in 1988.

mangue music said...

OK, thanks, so will keep checking regurlarly.
Can you give an indication how many recordings (or time length) have been made and are of enough quality to present on your blog?
Apart from Super Biton, do you know which concerts from other West-African groups have been recorded (and broadcasted) by Dutch (and/or Belgium) radio?
And sorry to keep asking, but do you know if there are made any live recordings from Oumou Sangare when she started to become known in the early 90s?

Thanks, again for all the wonderful music you have prsented on your blog.

WrldServ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WrldServ said...

@mangue music: Oumou Sangaré was recorded by VPRO radio in 1991 (Melkweg, August 9). I don't think there were any recording made of any of her concerts before then. Perhaps of her performance in Delft, a few days earlier.
I can only guess how many artists were recorded by Dutch radio (as to Belgian radio I have no idea). Quite a few, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

mangue music said...

@WrldServ: Thanks a lot for the info.
Wow, Oumou live around the time of her first K7/album, really like hear some of that.
Well won't bother with any further questions, and just looking forward to your future posts.
Thanks again!

NGONI said...

@mangue music
Looking within the link results, you can find four or five Oumou Live's, to the date of her first album or before.