Category Archives: Music

A goodbye blog…

It has been the most incredible journey of both of our lives. There have been challenges; the heat, the hills, the dust and the desert.

We set this blog to publish as our flight takes off out of Africa. I guess it’s a bit of a symbolic posting. It’s a goodbye blog.

We want to share a few photos we had been saving for the right moment. Some of these faces you may have seen in previous postings, some are new, but all showed us pure kindness, warmth and generosity. For that reason we wanted to devote a blog to the theme of generosity. These are the faces we will not forget as we leave African soil.

Mama: It had been a long day of cycling. We had never slept in a village before. She welcomed us with warmth, fed us and even gave us a crash course in Wolof. It was to be the first of many village camping experiences.

Senegal 010

Cheick shared a roadside pot of tea with us one hot Malian lunchtime. He had lost a bull and hadn’t had the best of days. But he dismissed his misfortune and instead welcomed us to the village, occasionally leaving us to make bull-related phone calls.

Cheikh

Pete: We met on the ferry to France. He was our adopted dad for the first leg of our trip. He encouraged us, kept our spirits up when our bums were burning and shared some very useful bike-touring wisdom with us. He was our first friend of the trip.

Tentatively we peeked through the bushes at a group of party-goers, only to be snapped up by the father of the bride who insisted that we join the festivities. We shared goats milk and attempted to learn a few words of Fula. It was the perfect half hour.

Semi Nomadic Fula Wedding

With a contagious smile he opened his home to us. Boubacar Kone is an artist, a philosopher, a businessman, but most of all he’s everyone’s friend. Bouba had polio as a child and now runs ‘Handicape Production’, a small shop selling his artisan work.

Boubacar

Ba Fousseyni: What can we say? Fousseyni, our Malian uncle and good friend. He fed us, offered us a home and became a very wonderful friend to have around.

Imran and Fousseyni

Sodio Boureïma: It was getting close to 50 degrees in the midday sun and we had been cycling on ‘corrugated iron’ sand piste for a long time… visibly exhausted we were heckled from the road and invited to rest. We napped at his side and when we awoke, waiting next to us was a pot of tea and a bowl of mangos.

Boureïma Sodio in Dogon village of Tedie Kanda

Jaliba Kuyateh: We had heard about him, turned up at his house on a whim and ended up sharing almost a week with him and his family. Generous and wise, he showed us a truly different side to The Gambia.

djeliba kouyate

Mama Lamlih: Baking us fresh bread every morning, preparing us a special couscous dinner (it wasn’t even ‘couscous friday’), she was the heart of the fantastic Lamlih family and made sure we felt at home as we entered the desert.

Mamma

Souleymane and Chekoroba: We met in Bamako, their home city. They agreed to teach Mikaela a couple of Bamana songs. A couple of songs turned into a true friendship, based on wonderful descriptive song translations from Chekoroba, the beautiful songwriting of Souleymane (which we ended up recording) and of course, Chekoroba’s mother’s ‘giniberri’ (ginger juice)..! We felt part of a family.

Souleymane

Souleymane`s final run through his song structure...

Chekoroba- Photograph by Florant Lalet

Coroba

There is a Moorish proverb that puts it more simply,

To travel is to know the true value of mankind.

“The old village beats are leaving”: Badenya Percussion play it funky…

The band tell us energetically that ‘the old village beats of Burkina are leaving‘.

‘Now Burkina Faso is listening to the imported sounds of Guineé, but we asked ourselves why?’

‘So we decided to bring all that inspires us together, from our traditional and modern lives, to create a new and exciting sound that Burkinabés will want to stop and listen to’.

Strong rhythms, funky riffs, earthy bass and soulful voices. Badenya are young, innovative and inspired. And Badenya Percussion has only just arrived on the music scene.

‘We formed in December and already have enough material to go to the studio’.

But finance is not easy here, Burkina Faso is one of the worlds poorest country’s and finding cash for recording time is no simple task.

With some support from a local music association the band have a rehearsal space and have found a way to live in one house, a sort of musical-villa, stuffed with balafons and drums, tucked in a corner of sleepy Bobo-Dioulasso. They live together, eat together and find creative connection in each other’s ideas,

‘There is no leader in our group, we are all equal. If someone wants to bring an idea to the table then fine, we will try anything.’

They are dedicated musicians, inspired by the complex and irresistible rhythms of Burkina Faso and driven by an energy of youth that may well take their music far beyond Burkina’s borders

Yacouba Diabaté plays kamele ngoni (the hunters harp)

Mohammed Outarra plays Calabasse

Diakaria Diabaté from Badenya Percussion plays a flute from Guineé

Diakaria Diabaté and Yacouba Diabté play some funky beats

(Note: when we have a better connection we will be sharing more clips of Badenya’s music)

Mango rains…

So, life in Bamako has been busy and as our time in the city comes to an end the music just gets better. We are on a high. Now it’s the end of another mad day and as our beds call us we feel it’s time for an overdue update, in photo form!

Its April, the weather is hot, sometimes the temperature reaches a scorching 45 degrees. Walking from to the kitchen and back makes you sweat. We both sleep and I begin a folder of photos entitled ‘Mikaela naps through the hot season’

Mikaela sleeps again...

Our friend Sadio Cissokho arrives from Senegal with his kora to work on the album. Sadio is a creative kora player, arranger and soulful singer. Together with Mikaela’s kamele ngoni teacher, Lassine Kone, we jam with Sadio for the first time since we met him in Casamance. Our musical high begins…
Kamel ngoni kora

The band meet Sadio and one of our best rehearsals follow. We rehearse at Baini’s house and a crowd gathers. The children dance madly to the music and the sky grows stormy. There’s talk of mango rain.

Madou with the kids
Imran takes his guitar back!
Muktar on Kalabash
Sadio and Imran
Lassine 'Ton Ton' plays tamani

A mango storm hits the city and as the rehearsal ends the sky is lit up with sheet lightening. We head home on flooded roads as the first rain we have seen in more than 6 months pours onto the dusty streets. We grin and laugh as we paddle through the water back to the house. Beautiful rain, perfect day.

Mango rains in Bamako

Imran builds his ngoni…

From his peaceful pocket of Bamako Waou answered my question, “you want to build a ngoni? It’s very hard!”.

With a little convincing he patiently showed me how to hand build an ngoni, the grandfather of the banjo.

Step 1: Taking a large tree trunk we chopped a log to the rough size of my future ngoni’s body.

Chopping the raw log

Step 2: Putting down our axes we carved out the inside to make a canoe shape and then sanded its rough surface.

Axe and feet

Imran and Waou

Carved body of the Ngoni

Step 3: Then we drilled about 16 holes around the edge of the body before creating a groove at one end for the neck to lay.

Step 4: Cutting bamboo poles we made around 20 wooden nails.

Step 5: Then for the smelly job, we sliced the cow skin (which had soaked overnight) to the shape of the body.

Step 6: Using the bamboo nails, we stretched the skin across the body and pinned it into place.

Stretching the skin

Step 7: Using a chisel tool we carved the neck to the shape of a broom handle with a spike at one end. We then cut holes into the skin and inserted the neck of the instrument.

Waou at work

Step 8: We then left the whole thing to dry in the blistering 42 degree heat of the Malian sunshine. With the scorching sunshine the skin-drying only takes a few hours!

The ngoni dries in the sun

Step 9: Using a hack saw we cut off the bamboo pins to the body.

Step 10: The instrument finished, we moved onto the strings

“What was used before nylon fishing line was available?” I ask.

Horse hair” explains Waou, his eyes scarcely stray from his work. Remembering a story of European violin players having to hunt down cats to make strings from their guts, I tell Waou that his ancestors were far more civilised than their European counterparts.

Trying to get that intricate knot right!

Waou attaches a string to the neck

After attaching all the strings to the instrument (six in this case), he proudly checks it over, fine tunes it and gives it a play. It is difficult to imagine that a day earlier it was little more that a log of wood, a fragment of calabash, some cow skin and a few metres of fishing line

For all the photos, click here.

music cycles’ first promo video…

Our first day of recording…

All the musicians pose together for an impromptu group photo

Record number of takes in 100 degree live room before sneaking a break- 5

Spontaneous dance breaks from Baini our electric guitarist- around 5…

Best use of resources- Kona (studio owner) for his ‘egg box sound proofing’

Exclamations of ‘ne nodo’ (‘my mistake’)- countless

Hours worked in studio- something near to 8

Tracks recorded- 3 (and we had only aimed for 2!)

So, with the first 3 tracks recorded, our album is finding its feet, getting its groove on, and taking some kind of shape for its inevitable late-night London mixing in May…

Mikaela and the boys (Madou and Ton Ton)

Mikaela in the innovative ‘eggbox liveroom’

Imran mic’s everyone up!

It’s lunchtime and Andra insists that Mikaela and Baini need their photo taken together (after weeks of warning that he will elope with her)

And I stopped singing the homesick blues…

I had been feeling blue after spending an afternoon eating leftovers from the fridge and gazing gloomily at photographs of family.

Just after 7 pm our housemate Eric shouted from outside that our friends had arrived. I had forgotten. My singing students/singing teachers had turned up fully prepared to work on our pieces and I, consumed by my mood, had completely forgotten about our song swapping date.

Before I had time to worry about my lack of preparation the three of us found ourselves stood up, finger clicking to the James Brown classic ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)‘ (an ironic choice on my part, I know). And so, as Abdoulaye’s scatty imaginary trumpet blasted out funky sounds in front of me, I began to forget my bad mood, and instead have a bit of a dance.

Souleymane and Coroba

My homesickness drifted away from our house, the clouds of my mood cleared and when it was my turn to work on my Bambara songs I realised I had been a little shortsighted.

Abdoulaye and Souleymane practise the Bambara song, Nyelemba, with Mikaela

Abdoulaye and Souleymane, with patience and warmth worked slowly through the lyrics of the day’s song, explaining the meaning of each word carefully.

This is a song about someone who is leaving their loved ones to travel“.

And the first line,

Kana kashi nemado kabi keita, kanga tdo tdalakele fe…

When I leave, do not weep. Because when I walk away you will still be with me.

“Is this song traditional?” I asked.

“No. I wrote this song. But it’s your song now, you can have it”.