Tag Archives: Bamako

All good things…

This is how we spent our final 24 hours in Bamako…

8h: After a speedy breafast, I get on my bike to try to find some spare bike parts. After running through our local market I find what I need and get some new bar ends welded together to ease the strain on our hands when cycling.

Bar ends

8h45: Back home, Mikaela is madly planning our next route while I file down guitar parts to get a road-worthy guitar together.

10h:  With the help of a welder I get an extension to Mikaela’s back rack for carrying her new kamele ngoni.

Rack

11h: We take a long taxi ride to Kalaban Coura ACI to say good-bye to Makan and his family, who hosted us when we first arrived in Bamako.

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14h12: After going back to the welders for a quick alteration, I start fixing the bikes up.

17h: With only a few hours left we reach the studio to record Mikaela’s vocal overdubs. Kona, the recording engineer, starts to transfer all the files onto a painfully expensive 8GB USB stick (35 euros!).  He tells us we can come collect it later on.

19h33: We guzzle down a final brochette and plantaine meal by our house with our flatmates.

21:13: Jumping in a taxi we race to say good-bye to Souleymane and Coroba’s families in the Badialan neighbourhood.

21:56: We then go the the rap podium that Souleymane helped to organise.

22:45: Souleymane asks us to join him to play is song “Maman”, his mother is in the audience and a few tears are shed.

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23:45: Realising we have around 4 hours til we needed to leave the house, we say our goodbyes to the party and rush off to collect our precious USB stick.

00:15: We collect the USB stick safely and say goodbye to Kona and Bob at the studio.

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00:30- We rush to meet our friends who will take the USB stick back to the UK. They are playing a gig at Radio Libre and we’re invited to perform a few songs.

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1:45: We say our final good-byes and rush back home where most of our packing is yet to be done.

4:10: After some very rapid packing (or stuffing!) we are ready to go.

Bamako, we are leaving you, your dusty streets, crazy roads and friendly faces. It has been sweet, sometimes bitter-sweet, but for now its goodbye, just until next time…

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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)

A few dark clouds: our house is burgled…

Arriving home to find our house had been burgled was a low point of the trip.

Everything gone. The camera, sound recorder, all our money and unfortunately the list goes on. Walking to the police office we noticed, for the first time, the sky was full of dark clouds and as Imran commented on the unusual weather a drop of rain fell to his nose. It seemed the first rains of our trip in West Africa had fallen.

But stuff is just stuff, our time here and on the rest of the trip has been fantastic, our encounters unique and the friends we have made will remain in our lives far into the future. For a moment we considered getting out of Mali as soon as our recording was finished, but that would be turning our backs on something so positive and leaving with clouds hanging over us.

But, we cannot change the fact that we have experienced a financial loss and of course the impact this has had on how safe we feel. These factors combined with a sense that if we continue to Kinshasa we may have to rush on the bicycles so much that we will actually miss seeing the countries we pass through, has led us to make a big decision.

In May we will return. We will fly home from Lagos where we have music contacts and a press passes for Sub-Saharan Africa’s exclusive performance of Fela!

So now with only a few months left and almost all of our valuables gone (except our bicycles and the GPS!) we are actually feeling positive. We are ready for the next leg of the journey, but not ready to come home. It’s not quite time to say goodbye.

Thinking about April: The road ahead…

We both feel it has long been time to change the header of our website ‘From the UK to Mali…‘, and now, after some agonising over what to change it to, the time has arrived.

We have both been investing time towards planning for the next exciting leg of our journey, the visa beauracracy, security situations, FCO advice (and the obvious insurance implications), sending emails to other cyclists, calculating kilometers, calculating days of cycling and rest, the list goes on.

So, right now the plan when April arrives, looks a little bit like this (ambitious and still a work in progress!),

– Pedal out of Mali and into Burkina Faso, where we will met with an Association of Young Musicians.

– Cycle through Burkina Faso and into Benin.

– Crossing our fingers that the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou issues us a visa (they normally refuse visas to travellers with an Embassy in their country of residence), we will cross the border into Nigeria.

– After enjoying the music scene in Lagos we hope to continue through Nigeria on a carefully calculated route (owing to security issues) and cross the frontier into the green (though rather hilly), Cameroon.

– Hopefully overcoming more expected visa problems, we will manage to obtain a visa for Gabon (known for its lush rainforests covering more than 85% of the country). By this point we are almost expecting to have run out of time and will possibly be forced to fly home from Libreville (Gabon). But if not…

– IF we can secure a visa and time remains on our side, we will cross into Congo heading a few hundred kilometers to Brazzaville.

– At Brazzaville we will take the ferry across the Congo River and border into Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, famed for its rich music scene.

Admittedly the last two stages of the journey are by far the most ambitious and remain in our minds a hopeful extra! But even if we only get as far as Nigeria’s energetic Lagos, I know we will have been slowed down by the best of distractions, as has always been the case on this fantastic trip.

So with many hopeful ‘ifs’…’ hanging in the air, we’ll leave you with a map of our proposed 5000 km additional route, some images of the countries we hope to pass through and the funky sounds of DRC’s Baloji!

Mount Cameroon, 4,040 m (13,255 ft), we will be cycling its foothills and if we have time, who knows we might even climb it!

One of DRC’s biggest stars, Baloji