When Souleymane announced to us that he had written a song for his mother I have to admit, I wasn`t really expecting anything spectacular. Writing a song in homage to a mother is not a spectacular occurrence here in Mali.
But Souleymane had written something so heartfelt, so tender, and so beautiful that I found myself moved to tears.
`Maman oh ye Maman, lena oh ye Maman,
Iye Maman na Maman…
Sigi gele ma na Maman, sigi gele ma furoso,
Sigi gele ma, sigi gele ma tounka…`
`My mother, being a mother is never easy, but to be a mother in poverty brings struggle and you have struggled. Our reality in Africa is not easy. Being a mother in Africa is not easy.`
Alone this translation was enough to move me, but then as the explanation continued and Souleymane spoke of his father’s death and the difficulty it brought to their family`s survival, his words seemed so much more poignant, and his mother so much clearer to my mind.
The translation continues,
`How were you to ever know life would be so hard? How were you to ever know our father would be taken from us? He was taken before we had a chance to tell him how thankful we truly were to him. But we can thank you. I thank you everyday. But my words mean so little compared to what you have given me.`
I look into the eyes of my friend Souleymane, a man the same age as me. But he has lived a thousand times more than I have. He has struggled, he has fought for things that were given to me. And now, at the age of 22, he has just told me he is leaving Mali for four years. He is going to Ghana, thousands of kilometers away from his home, his family and everything he has built. He is leaving to learn English and get a good education, to make his family proud, to make a brighter future for the children he too will one day raise.
The translation comes to an end,
`The River is great, but my mother is greater.
The ocean is great, but my mother is also greater.
Had I gold I would give it all to you.
Had I diamonds I would give them all to you.
Thank you my mother, thank you a million times.`
Souleymane recording Maman in the studio (post-burglary photo thanks to Shakeeb Khan!)