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.