May 27, 2018

Kasse Mady (1949-2018)

Yet another of my musical heroes has passed away, and once more too young. I still had high expectations from Kasse Mady Diabaté, who passed away in Bamako, Mali, this Friday (May 24, 2018) at the age of 69.

Kasse Mady was born in 1949 in Kela, a village 100 kilometres south of Bamako, upstream on the Niger river, and a village renowned for its djeli population and its proximity (only 8 km) to the village of Kangaba, which is seen as the craddle of Mande culture. Although born into a family with deep griot roots (his aunt was the great Siramori Diabaté, see this post) neither his father nor his mother were djeli (other than by birth), and Kasse Mady started out by helping his father, cutting grass for the horses. But even at a young age his voice stood out, and many started to compare him to his great grandfather Bintoufama Diabaté, nicknamed 'Kasse Mady'.
Still in his teens Kasse Mady builds up a reputation singing at weddings, baptisms and such, until he is asked to join the orchestre Super Mande from Kangaba, which subsequently participates in the first Biennale Artistique et Culturelle in 1970. A few years later he joins Les Maravillas de Mali, at a time when the orchestra is in a state of great unrest, after having been heavily censored by the new government of president Moussa Traoré. When the chef d'orchestre is replaced the name of the orchestra is changed to Badema National.
At Badema Kasse Mady is able to really make his mark, and he stays with the orchestra for 16 years, until he lured away by producer Ibrahima Sylla in 1989. He moves to Paris where Sylla produces his album "Fode".

I guess the first time I heard Kasse Mady sing was in the mid 1980s. I don't remember being very impressed, but this may have been due to the rather miserable quality of the cassettes (copies of copies of copies). This changed dramatically when I heard the song "Fode Nara", while visiting Bamako in 1988 (here is the actual recording; I missed the beginning..). I certainly wanted more of this.
Unfortunately there would be little more of Kasse Mady with Badema, as the public institutions responsible for the national orchestras disintegrated and musicians had to look elsewhere to find an income. Kasse Mady, like many others, moved to Paris.

Personally I think his album "Fode", (over)produced by Syllart, was a step backwards. Even today, after years of musical abuse from (especially) Paris-based productions, I still can't stand more than two minutes of this album. Fortunately the production was toned down a bit with the following album, "Koulandjan". While still very much a Parisian production, at least Kasse Mady gets a chance to shine. As the album title suggests, it contains a version of the Malinké classic "Koulandjan", for which Kasse Mady wanted to use the traditional version. He asked permission of the elders in Kela, which he received a few weeks later accompanied by a cassette explaining which parts of the epic song had to be included. The total length of the song including these lines would amount to 30 minutes. But Sylla stopped the recording after 13 minutes, much to the annoyance of Kasse Mady.

Kasse Mady went back to live in Mali in 1998.
In 2001 he was approached by Lucy Duran to record. Produced by Duran, the result is a mature album which set the tone for the albums which followed: strong songs selected from the Mande repertoire of Kela and Kangaba, mixed with a few excursions into other areas.

I am not going to review all the albums Kasse Mady has released. I would, instead, like to share a small selection of his work with you. You can either listen to or download the mix here:
Alternately you can download the tracks of this mix here: Kasse Mady in memoriam

Also, I would like to share with you this cassette, which was recorded (and produced) in Mali. It is undated, but my guess is that the cassette was recorded in the late 1990s.
IC 0497

As I mentioned, I had high hopes for Kasse Mady. I would have loved to have seen him with a revival of Badema, slowly rocking his shoulders to the rhythm of the music....

March 20, 2018

Le Poète à 80

A tribute to Le Poète Lutumba Simaro, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

Tracks (all composed by Simaro):
01. Na Lifelo Bisengo Ezali Te (Orchestre Mi)
02. Fifi Nazali Innocent (O.K. Jazz)
03. Motema Na Yo Retroviseur (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
04. Mambo Mucho (Kongo Jazz)
05. Affaire Kitikwala (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
06. Oko Regretter Ngai Mama (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
07. Inoussa (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
08. Santa Guy Guyna (O.K. Jazz)
09. Mado Aboyi Simaro (O.K. Jazz)
10. Annie Obosani Ngai? (O.K. Jazz)
11. Odutaka Na Vie Mon Cher (T.P. O.K. Jazz)
12. Lisana Ebandaki Na Kin Malebo (Orchestre Mi)
13. Testament Ya Bowule (live TV) (T.P. O.K. Jazz)

January 02, 2018


I am well aware that it has been over a year since the last post on this blog. I hope to change this in 2018, but am making no promises. Fortunately others are still going strong or have in the last year returned to blogging.
Besides the usual subjects (the work of Franco and his O.K. Jazz, music from Mali and such) I hope to share some traditional music with you in the year which has just started.

But first a post about a cassette which has resurfaced occasionally in the last two decades since I copied it from my friend Faas. A cassette which has intrigued me because of its rare mix of traditional and modern elements. The cassette is by the Ensemble Instrumental Raoul Follereau de Bamako, an ensemble which I have been unable to trace in Mali and which none of the artists I have spoken to (in the past) have ever heard of. That is one of the intriguing elements...

It doesn't take too much imagination to figure out that there must be a link to the Fondation Raoul Follereau. This assertion is backed up by the first track on the B-side, which is about this journalist, writer and welldoer of French origin. Raoul Follereau, who died in 1977, is best known for his struggle against leprosy and poverty. He did not created the foundation which carries his name (this was founded 7 years after his death), but did inspire its foundation. The man appears to have been inspired in turn by Charles de Foucauld*, although perhaps I should write that he used Foucauld for his personal objectives. And these were - in retrospect - not as elevated and pure as the creation of a foundation in his name may suggest, - or as they may have seemed at the time. Follereau founded the Fondations Charles de Foucauld in order to rebuild the French church of the Sahara ("reconstruire l'Église française du Sahara"). The key words in this are "french" and "church", for - very much in the spirit of the 1930s - nationalism and christianity were very much part of Follereau's philosophy. In 1927 he had created "la Ligue de l’Union latine", "destinée à défendre la civilisation chrétienne contre tous les paganismes et toutes les barbaries" (to defend christian civilisation against paganism and barbarism). Of course (and like present-day nationalistic movements) the superiority of the own, national culture was not in dispute.
Follereau went as far as to join forces with all those willing to fight the "complot judéo-maçonnique", openly praising Mussolini and supporting the Vichy regime during WWII.
Although this may have nothing to do with the work of the Fondation, it does perhaps raise some questions about the motives of the organisation. The French have always had a tendency to promote their way of thinking, under the guise of 'francophonie' or 'collaboration'. And it is surprising how little this has done to really help the countries and societies which were the target of French aide.

Back to the cassette.
The cassette was released in 1993, i.e. five years after the last 'old style' Biennale. Still the music does evoke memories of these great events, which coincidentally were relaunched last week in Bamako (although apparently not everyone agreed that this was the right moment to do so).
Particularly the chorus reminds me of the great choruses I have seen and heard. What I find refreshing with these choruses is the lack of pretence. Although the girls all sings in unison, they still create the impression of being an unruly (but happy) group of individuals. Most of the instruments accompanying the girls are those one would expect with an ensemble instrumental from Mali: kora, balafon, flutes, bolon, drums.
The twist is in the addition of an electric guitar. And what a nice guitar it is. This is the kind of guitar one would occasionally hear with a djeli, or with Abdoulaye Diabaté: plenty of reverb and smooth as silk.

This is nice music to dream away, to glide smoothly into the new year.
Happy New Year.

Ensemble Instrumental Raoul Follereau de Bamako(AFR 001, 1993)

* for those who can read French: the entry in the French wikipedia is much more elaborate.