October 15, 2015


'Tempus fugit', often translated as 'time flies', actually means 'time escapes'. This is how I experience the passing of time; it rushes on and I am running after it trying to catch up.
In this post I would like to share with you a video, which I recorded in 2011 and which I have been meaning to post on this blog ever since. But time has been escaping me, and we are now in 2015.

The recording was made in October 2011, in a bar called Le Tempo in central Bamako. And the name seems very fitting for the music which was performed by a group of clearly seasoned musicians. For walking into the bar was like walking into a time machine, and being transported to the early 1970s.
And perhaps even to a different place. For this music reminded me of legendary artists like Dexter Johnson, Laba Sosseh, Idy Diop, Papa and Mar Seck. Music with a strong Latin or Cuban flavour, hot and languid. Languid in a positive sense: with the ease that comes from an inherited understanding, and not from fanatic practice.

Unfortunately the sound is slighty distorted, but it should give you an idea of the almost unreal quality of this orchestra. The flute player would fit in easily with any top Cuban orchestra. Unfortunately I did not have time to go back and find out who he is, but this man is topnotch. The vocals in these two cleverly linked songs are superb. The harmonies in "Que Humanidad" (the first if the two) are in my opinion better than in Johnny Pacheco's original from the mid-1960s, particularly for the despondent tone. The second song, "Oriente", does not surpass the original, but this is not surprising as the original is by the immortal Cheo Marquetti* when he was singing with Chappottin y sus Estrellas, at a time when they were - rightly - at the top of their fame. But the Tempo band still manages to give the song its own feeling.

Out of character and emphasising that I am not going to be making a habit of this, I would like to add that if you like this 'genre' I can recommend the releases by Terangabeat, noteably those of Idrissa (Idy) Diop, Mar Seck and Dexter Johnson, despite the fact that I get the impression that in 'restoring' the original they may have in some cases overshot the mark.

Returning to the music of Mali: a lot has been written about the Latin influence into the music of the Malian orchestras. While I am inclined to believe that this influence is being overstated, it does not mean there was no influence. Apart from a few musicians who went to, visited or even studied in Cuba (such as Boncana Maiga, who can been seen nowadays presenting a rather unfortunate weekly magazine on modern African music on the French TV5), Mali also went through a Latin 'wave', - as did most countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas**. Often records from the GV-series on the HMV-label (from the 1950s) are cited as a major influence on West African music, but I have my doubts about this. This series contained mainly Cuban son music, and little of this music remains in the West African music of either the 1950s or 1960s. I suspect Mali went along with the worldwide craze in the 1960s.

I had heard from several musicians that there had been orchestras in the era of Modibo Keita which combined Latin with Malian, and even French music. But for decades this music seemed to have been lost in the mist of time (as is the case with far too much music in the African continent). But fortunately Florent Mazzoleni managed to dig up this cassette, which I would like to share with you here. The cassette contains no information apart from the title of the orchestra: Askia Jazz.

This orchestra was reputedly founded in 1960, in the wake of Mali's independence, by pupils of the Lycée Askia Modibo in Bamako. Several musicians claim to have started in this orchestra, but one member who has been confirmed by several sources is the legendary sax player Harouna Barry. I am not quite sure which instrument Harouna Barry played with Askia Jazz, but reports suggest it was not the saxophone, as he only took up playing this instruments years later. He only stayed with Askia Jazz for a few years before moving to Gao, where he worked as teacher. In the mid-1970s he joined Boncana Maiga in Les Maravillas. And ten years later, in the mid-1980s, he was the leader of the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali before becoming the chef d'orchestre of National Badèma. He remained in this position until his retirement in 2001. Harouna Barry passed away in January 2008.

Other members included Mohamed Cheick Tabouré, who - according to this article - stated that the creation of Askia Jazz was made possible by using the money from the deposits which student had to pay when they joined the Lycée. This money was used to buy instruments in Abidjan. The example of the Lycée Askia Modibo was soon followed by other schools in Bamako.
Tabouré, by the way, is in the news in Mali with some regularity as a leading member and spokesperson of le Mouvement Populaire du 22 mars, which was created to support the plotters of the coup d'état of March 2012.

As per usual I am open to any suggestions with regard to the titles of the 16 songs of this cassette. I have added my suggestions, - but they are just that: suggestions.

Askia Jazz du Lycée Askia Modibo

Many thanks to Florent Mazzoleni for filling in this bit of musical history from Mali!

* but what is surprising is the fact that Marquetti, born in the Occidente of Cuba (Alquízar), should be so melancholic about the Oriente.
** even in the Netherlands we had a spell a Latin madness. I particularly remember this frisky chachacha from my youth.


FiveGunsWest said...

Man, this is great stuff. Thanks so much for sharing. It would be fun to see the band and soak up the atmosphere. Keep them coming if you got 'em!

Anonymous said...

Love the music, and very happy to see you're back. Thanks. Yann

Anonymous said...

The wonderful introduction is not enough to provide musical quality to the very interesting and historical recording of Askia Jazz.
I really attracts more the Tempo video, where we hear the actual formation of the orchestra Taras, with Bazoumana Sissoko grandson ( Mohamed Abdoulaye S.Sissoko)playing bass.

WrldServ said...

@Ngoni: Thanks for this very useful contribution!

I had a faint suspicion that the orchestra at Le Tempo was "Les Taras", which Mohamed Cheick Tabouré mentions in the article (see the link). But the video to which you link in your comment proves it.
This actually closes the circle, as this band is a direct 'descendant' to Askia Jazz!

Anonymous said...

Askia Jazz, Le Tarasynco (as it was originally called), and The National Badema after Kassemady have a common thread, former colleagues, who meet again along the "time".
I have a video of Taras disappeared with my late youtube channel, I reuploaded to Daylimotion to share in this occasion.

I will also reupload the National Badema videos, two of them in honor Alou Fane.
You can find the Taras bassist in 19:45 minutes of "Les pionniers du la musique moderne du Mali"
Returning to the "Time flies" This closes the circle, as it connects with the first post of this blog.
By the way, Harouna Barry left us in 2008, not in 2009.

WrldServ said...

@Ngoni: You are right: Harouna Barry died in January 25, 2008, - less than two weeks after Daouda Sangaré.
I'll correct this.

Franco said...

Great Stuff....Love It !

Anonymous said...

Next to all this knowledge, I can simply agree that the music has a genuinely languid charm, like smoke curling upwards in a bar under slow moving fans. Great stuff, and thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Thank you. All the best to this superb group.

Rhythm Connection said...

Takes me a while to get to this community and this page, these days, amidst an enormous transition in life, but oh so happy I am here to witness this great music, and learn a bit more about the music I love. THANKS!

WrldServ said...

@Rhytm Connection: I hope we'll see you back in the 'blogosphere' soon!

grooVemonzter said...

Great video! The music is sublime and the dancers take me there. Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

El divorcio

grooVemonzter said...

This music is absolutely evocative. Thanks for the leads. Dexter Johnson especially. Cheers.