Tag Archives: bassekou kouyate

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)

Festival sur le Niger 2011: bringing inspiration and realisation…

After ten minutes of sensitive negotiation a small and rather hole ridden pirogue rolled onto the sandy shore of the River Niger. We climbed tentatively over its tall sides that rocked wildly as we moved through its long body. Staggering to sit ourselves down on the wood-plank seats we couldn’t help but feel it had been Olivier’s Bambara negotiations that had got us such an exclusive view. As we Bobbed our way around the stage of Festival sur le Niger, the lights of the other lanterns twinkled orange, red and gold. While the sounds of Oumar Koita’s band drifted over the water and the crowd struggled to the front, we cruised happily towards the stage.

Lighting cotton balls in lanterns in preparation for our pirogue and its twinklely voyage 

Enjoying the view of Festival sur le Niger on an atmospheric and rather unofficial pirogue trip

Olivier attempts to put out a minor boat fire, whoops!

Our brave young ‘Pinase Tigi’, (master of the pinase), he insisted on lifting the balls of fire with a combination of chopsticks and his bare hands!

The Festival organisation was pretty impressive; local crafts stalls with artisan work from all over West Africa, draconian wrist band control from men in high-visibilty vests and, the wonderful navy of lantern lit boats every night- simply to decorate the River Niger. It all seemed rather extravagant for the normally quite modest Mali. But the Festival provided a showcase for the rich and colourful culture of this region, and being the largest Festival in West Africa it did great justice to its objective.


Imran and Flo enjoying the music

Kasse Mady Diabate brings his powerful voice to the stage

After a minor boat fire we returned to the shore for the last of the evenings music and as we finished our wonderful holiday in Segu we reflected with other musical friends on the challenge that lay ahead of our project. Given the high quality and incredible musicianship both at the festival and within the band we are lucky enough to be working with we found ourselves feeling a little daunted by the new week of rehearsals.

It seemed we were right to feel a bit overwhelmed. When rehearsals arrived on Monday we realised just how much work we had before us.

But with music, anything is possible.” Andra spoke with a reassuring wisdom that gave us both the confidence we needed. Concerned we might be forcing a western style on our fellow musicians Andra once again brought wisdom and encouragement to our discussions.

Andra Kouyate

“I’m not interested in African styles, or European styles… Music is music and that’s what I’m interested in.”

And so, as our work multiplies and the challenges become greater we really begin to understand just how much we will learn here. For all of these realisations we have, we sometimes still make mistakes and get it wrong. But sometimes you have to get it wrong in order to get it right. And that, in itself, is quite exciting.

Our lovely host Anilde and the ‘Segu family’

Mikaela sings a few tunes in the courtyard of Anilde’s lovely home

Laundry day outside our beautiful lodgings on the River Niger

Dusk and time for soundchecks

The dusty rehearsals begin…

Playing ‘Green Brooms’

Arriving at our rehearsal in Dialakorodji, we remove our Sotrama bus face-masks with a dramatic wipe of our dusty eyes. We walk from the sand piste to find the usual scene of gazing children, tea-making friends and of course, hard-working musicians working intensely. Normally we rely on the far-reaching sound of Ton Ton’s tama to find our way to Andra Kouyaté’s al fresco rehearsal space but today feels different, somehow more familiar and we stroll in the right direction with ease.

As we settle down, we enjoy the last few songs of Andra’s band. The sun begins to set and as a red fog descends upon the streets our audience of children grows, defying the usual 7 o’clock prayer-time curfew.

We say our ‘Nche’s’ and ‘Ekakeneh’s’ before the rehearsal begins.

Hard at work

Ton Ton and Madou get into the groove…

Uncle Fousseyni (the middle brother of the Kouyaté family) joins us for a rehearsal

While the orange mud brick wall behind us radiates the days dry heat and Mikaela’s microphone distorts gently we begin to wonder whether this rehearsal space could not be improved with some relocation work.

Rehearsing in Dialakorodji

But as Aramata waves an offer of porridge in our direction, the children dance and a local farmer passes us with his twelve strong cattle herd mooing loudly into the dusk air, we understand Andra’s choice of space.

In the few rehearsals we’ve had so far, we’ve worked on mixing a couple of traditional songs from home with Bambara songs. The result; the start of someting we hope to record at the end of March.

Festival au Désert 2011: airport jamming…

As we rubbed our eyes of a nights worth of sleepy dust and desert sand Imran rummaged to find the ringing mobile phone. It was Bassekou’s brother (and fellow band member) Foussyeni, who had recently become our Malian uncle. Fousseyni seemed his normal relaxed self, though it seemed quite alarming he should be calling at 9am given the life of almost every Bamako musician we knew remained exclusively nocturnal. Then Fousseyni explained that our flight was leaving in half an hour.

As we rushed into the airport building, looking a little bedraggled, we realized the flight would not be leaving for some time and sat down to enjoy a post-festival jam.

We jammin

Engulfed in his grand boubou, Amanou of the band ‘Tartit’, played the three stringed Tamasheq ngoni bringing the sound of the desert into the departure lounge. Next to him Dimitri from the headlining band Dinamitri Jazz Folklore added sensitive melodies and solos influenced by his Italian heritage and jazz background.

Amanou from Tartit and Dimitri

As Mikaela improvised vocal lines Amkoullel reminded us all of the young and energetic face of Mali, his Bambara lyrics fusing into the mix. Tiwitine later took Imran’s guitar adding the rich tones of North Mali’s musical culture.


Mikaela, Amkoullel and Dimitri

For us this was a jam session where the challenges of collaborating with such different musical styles melted away. With such sensitive contributors, we found ourselves, as so often has been the case on this journey, surrounded by a supportive and welcoming circle of musicians.

Outside the tama (talking drum) spoke to the air as dancers from various bands moved like fire, some barefoot, some in killer heels. They moved fast on the hot tarmac, showing us all their passion extended way beyond a ten-minute choreographed performance.

Tamas at the airport

Eventually, as we boarded the plane for Bamako, we couldn’t help but will our delay to continue. Just for another hour or so…

No easyjet flight!

Festival au Désert 2011: a year of transition…

Camel race

Festival au Desert‘ as an official music event saw its first year some 11 editions ago. Back in 2001 the festival was hailed as a cultural melting pot, a unique meeting point for musical cultures.

Today this reputation stands but now it fights a battle with the advice of every foreign office in the Western hemisphere. The regions ever growing reputation of insecurity and Al-Qaeda linked activity has challenged the survival of the event. It seems the magical musical event is living through times of tension and transition but holding its heads proudly above the rough waters.

Camel race 2

Only a day after an explosion took place outside the French Embassy in Bamako (which to the disappointment it seemed, of many commentators, was totally unrelated to the Festival), Manny, the Festival’s director, told us the festival has resisted far harsher realities than today’s challenges. A traditional meeting place of nomadic people, that predates its 2001 official birth. Year upon year the people of the desert have survived proudly through famine, rebel conflict with the government and a daily battle with the conditions of the desert. These are, Manny tells us, a people unwilling to back down.


Arriving at the festival (we were lucky enough to fly on the artists plane thanks to Bassekou Kouyaté!), we could immediately see that for so many the event was crucially about its location; traditional tents sat waiting for their arriving visitors and the dunes were glowing with the golden sunshine of late afternoon.


As we walked through the festival gate we witnessed the onslaught of four wheel drives zooming past us delivering wealthy westerners to their tents. We began to see the different faces that a cultural meeting point can show, the good, the bad and the ugly.

So lets start in reverse order, it’s always better to finish with a positive.

Owing to the difficult security situation in this region, the festival was forced to move from Essakane (a few hours drive into the desert), to Tombouctou. Naturally this caused problems for the countless nomadic people who would normally travel to the event, but more significantly it caused a huge influx of local people to enter the festival as ‘hawkers’, pushing various products into the faces of tourists.

Dune 1

Once more, the level of local children demanding 1000 CFA or a can of fanta proved to be a worrying symbol of the inequality on show, though not as worrying as the tourists who actually met their demands.

Children: it’s not hard to get a following at the Festival

Resulting again from the new location, the diminished number of nomadic people had an impact on the authenticity of the festival and the music being played. Though many continued to make the long camel journey, some were unable to attend and their absence was felt by many of the nomads present.


Though we enjoyed the fantastic sounds of Oumou Sangaré, Bassekou Kouyaté and Amkoullel (all of whom we will be writing future blogs on), we were especially looking forward to the cross-cultural collaborations. But these performances left a lot to be desired.

Jeconte 1The first was billed as a marriage of New Orleans jazz and blues with some of the finest musicians of Bamako, courtesy of US harmonica-player Jeconte. What was delivered was a prolonged jam-session which was, frankly, hard to watch. Though Jeconte’s energy and enthusiasm were contagious, few accepted his invitation to sing his “Inshallah, I love Mali” chorus. This was a painful case of a sum being far inferior to its parts.

But, as we kicked back in our sleeping bags under a blanket of stars to the sounds of Vieux Farka Touré’s desert guitar, nibbling at a taguella (local bread) and sipping a hot cup of millet porridge, we took time to reflect upon our short time at the festival.

Festival au Desert

Les Onze de Gao 2

It was then that we felt the beauty of the festival could be summarized by one encounter we had shared with a young Tuareg.

Abdullah called to us from across the dune, ‘you’re from Kaliban Koura ACI!!?’.

Confused, we confirmed his suspicion, and it turned out that we were neighbours in Bamako.

‘I am from a Tuareg family, my village is seven days away by camel in that direction’. As Abdullah pointed he went on to insist that we take a glass of tea together and led us to his nearby stall where, like so many others forced from nomadic life, he scraped a living selling handmade traditional jewellery.

Abdullah’s stall was a work of art, and as he had crossed his legs to sit down he proudly explained the way of life his family led.

‘I go to visit my family’s current village every now and then. You must understand that we are still nomadic people and in our hearts our favourite time in life is when we make a long journey by camel.’

‘A group of us go. It takes seven days and we only travel at night. Each member of the voyage has a role, for example my speciality is tea-making’. Abdullah grinned up from the tea he was lovingly preparing for us.

‘In the group there is always one expert who can read the stars, to guide us on our way to the village.’

As he continued to tell us the magical tale of desert travel and even invite us on his next visit, we had gazed around us at the strange mixture of cultures. The white man wearing a tagelmust (turban), happily accepting the folds of his recently purchased boubou (traditional wide sleeved flowing robe) standing alongside a semi-nomadic goatherder who had travelled for days to reach the desert. They stood conversing about culture, music and art.


As we had looked on Abdullah spoke the words of a tea proverb,

‘The first glass is as bitter as death.

The second is as beautiful as life.

And the last, as sweet as love.’

It was then that we realized, for all our judgments and criticisms, the good, the bad and the ugly, this was the meeting point of cultures and in that, coexisting in an atmosphere of clashes, we could see both beauty and magic.


Festival au Desert