Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

The magical music of Mali


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WAITING TO ROCK INDIA: Vieux Farka Toure performs in Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai this month

INDIAN fans of the world music genre would instantly recognise Mali for the contributions of Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita. While the former was one of Africa’s best known singers, guitarists and multi-instrumentalists, the latter is an Afro-pop singer-songwriter also known as the ‘Golden Voice of Africa’. Still others would associate the West African country with the album ‘Mali Music’, released by Damon Albarn of the groups Blur and Gorillaz.

Just like South Africa has had big names like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Dollar Brand and Vhusi Mhalasela, Mali has had a number of stars over the years. And yet, despite the fact that the country is steeped hugely in musical culture, militants announced early last year that they were banning all music, forcing many artistes into exile. For a country where people literally breathe music, that was an unfortunate development.

This year, India is having a good taste of Malian music, thanks to the Blackberrys Sharp Nights – Masters of World Music series organised by upscale menswear brand Blackberrys. Last month, New Delhi and Hyderabad witnessed performances by famed singer Fatoumata Diawara. Now, singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali Farka Toure, will perform in Pune on December 3, Bengaluru on December 6 and Mumbai on December 10.

Vieux has performed at Mumbai’s Blue Frog on an earlier visit, and those who missed that now have a chance to see him. At the same time, those enthusiastic about world music may begin with this list of 10 brilliant Malian musicians. We add a few more names at the end, for those who would like to explore even further.

Ali Farka Toure: Blending traditional Malian music with American blues, Ali Farka Toure has been ranked No 76 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘100 greatest guitarists of all time’. Recommended albums include ‘Savane’, ‘Talking Timbuktu’, ‘From Mississippi to Mali’ (with blues and reggae musician Corey Harris) and ‘In The Heart of the Moon’ (with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate). Ali passed away In 2006.

Salif Keita: Combining West African musical styles with popular European and American influences, Keita made it big in Paris in the mid-1980s. He recorded some successful albums after returning to Mali, including ‘Mouffou’ and ‘La Difference’.

Rokia Traore: An award-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist, Traore uses vocal harmonies which are rare in Malian music. Her 1997 album ‘Mouneissa’ was popular, and she later released some superb collections like ‘Wanita’, ‘Bownboi’ and ‘Tchamantche’.

Tinariwen: The Grammy-winning group from northern Mali was formed in the late 1970s, but became a sensation with the 2007 album ‘Aman Iman’ (‘Water is Life’). Their style is essentially guitar-driven and they use traditional melodies of the Tuareg community.

Toumani Diabate: Best known for his collaboration with Ali Farka Toure on ‘In The Heart of The Moon’, Diabate is a master of the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge harp. His father Sidiki Diabate pioneered the instrument, and his younger brother Mamodou Sidiki Diabate is a prominent player too.

Vieux Farka Toure: The son of Ali Farka Toure, Vieux is one of the most promising musicians of Mali, and has often been called ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’. His self-titled debut album features both his father and Diabate, and his latest album ‘Mon Pays’ was released as a homage to his homeland.

Amadou & Mariam: Comprising the couple of Amadou Bagayoko on guitar and vocals and Mariam Doumbia on vocals, the group made a name for itself playing Malian blues. Both the musicians are blind.

Oumou Sangare: One of the most popular singers of Mali, Sangare belongs to the Wassoulou region. Her 1990 debut ‘Moussolou’ was hugely popular in Africa, and later she became well-known outside the continent too.

Fatoumata Diawara: Currently living in France, Diawara blends Wassoulou traditions with international influences. Her powerful voice blends well with her slick guitaring, and she’s been a success on her shows in the US, South America and Asia.

Bassekou Kouyate: A master of the string instrument ngoni, Kouyate has played with Diabate and American banjo player Bela Fleck. He has released the albums ‘Segu Blue’, ‘I Speak Fula’ and ‘Jama Ko’.

WHILE these 10 musicians may be perfect for those wanting an initiation into the music of Mali, the country has produced many other prominent artistes. These include singers Fanta Sacko and Fanta Damba, singer-guitarists Afel Boucom and Habib Koite, singer-kora player Kandia Kouyate and rap group Tata Pound.

Indeed, Mali is a goldmine for African music. Despite the political upheaval it has faced, the nation has produced a wealth of talent. In case you missed Fatoumata Diawara’s shows last month, Vieux Farka Toure will surely provide a heady dose of Malian magic in the three shows he has lined up.

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