Tag Archives: culture

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
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The beauty of Gnawa music…

With the advice of the gimbri carver we met in the park yesterday we take a bus towards the Kasbah of the Udayas expecting to hear some gnawa music in a concert like venue.

Using the Moroccan GPS we make our way towards what tranpired to be a private address in an old part of the city. As we grow closer to te house the location of the music we were looking for becomes very clear. The rhytmic crash of the krakebs hits the night air and stops us in our tracks, this was unmistakable sound of Gnawa music. We take timid steps closer to the house where we are spotted looking intrigued and are swept into the house through a large timber door. The building, an old riad style house has an open terrace carpetted with traditional rugs and littered with Moroccan antiques. The walls tell the stories of history, swords and daggers, gold leaf paintings with pensive looking warrior characters. The terrace is cushioned with satin pillows and low laying intricately carved tables. In the welcoming palm of each table and cushion sit ornate silver teapots, the smell of their sweet mint tea filling the air.

The intoxicating sound of the Gnawa music is encaptivating and as we stare around the room in awe of the scene sorrounding us it felt as though we might be beautifully invisible. No one is stirred by our unusual presence. We are not questioned as to why we have come. Each individual seems caught in their own moment, the hypnotic rhythm of the krakebs and the soulful tone of the gimbri.

 

Gnawa music is ancient in its origins, and there are intertwining influences between West African music and the Gnawa tones. Descendents of Sub-Saharan slaves the Gnawa are well known for their traditions of trance like music. The krakebs have an intoxicating effect on the mind, and it’s easy to see how it can induce a trance state. The empowering volume alone is impressive, but it’s the rhythm that tricks the mind. Rhythms are either a loose 4/4  comparable to samba, or a 2 against 3 feel. Short in cycle, you subconsciously hear a different rhythm each time.

A break arrives in the music and we are invited to sit with the musicians who are keen to tell us more about their culture.

‘The thing you must know is that the music we play is a pure form of Gnawa, there is nothing commercial in this. This music is part of our belief system and the people who have come here today are here to heal spiritual ailments.’

The gimbri player, Sadiki sits next to us and prepares his hashish/tobacco mixture before puffing gracefully at a long wooden pipe. Next to him the three krakeb players sip their mint tea quietly and listen to th conversation nodding in agreement at intervals.

‘We are here weekly and local people know of our music and this house. They come here specifically to be healed.’

The break is over and they return to sit and play. Many moments seem to have passed us but we are unaware of how long we have been sat for. Slowly, one by one, the people around us crawl towards the musicians. In trance they move to the rhytyms, shaking their heads, crying and swaying from side to side vigourously. The women who work and live in the house cover them in silk scarves of seven different colours (representing the seven different spirits) and for every person who joins more incense is added to the smoking embers.

The music seems to reach a climax but then draws back again before entering a series of prayers, then another series of songs are played. Finally, as each participant calms and their movements simmer the music so too follows, more prayers are said and a break is taken.

The musicians again join us for tea, this time they are grinning in our direction as they humourously stretch out their hands and fingers, they have been playing now for some 45 minutes continuously.

‘This will continue all night. You see, we are not simply playing songs, every piece is part of a complex set of musical passages which we must finish playing. We will be here all night.’