Tag Archives: mali

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.

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Hello Burkina Faso: the highs and the lows…

On a low: Only 5km into our day of cycling and a huge thorn has buried itself within the depths of Mikaela’s front tyre and is causing multiple punctures. Time for a new tyre.

Mikaela gives her new tyre the kiss of luck!

On a high: A long day of pedalling and we arrive at an actual hotel. As students on bicycles we are swiftly shown to a cheap spot on the roof… we discover the hotel has a swimming pool and sneak lots of cheeky dips free of charge.

A blissful afternoon off the bikes…

On a low: Discovering the rumours were wrong, the road had not been paved as far as hoped…

The signpost gave little detail as to what the ‘danger’ was…

On a high: We rest our piste-shaken bones in the small village of Tedie Kanda. It’s an artisan village of Dogon people and we are invited to meet the local weavers at work.

Hard at work weaving cloth

On a low: The dust is bad and the borderland is much bigger than the map told us.

It should have been 15km…

An orange mist

On a high: At the Malian exit point, we worry about our dodgy visas (Imran was mistakenly given a 100 years duration). But it seems the officials are so happy we took the road against the advice of ‘evil Sarkozy’ (we assume a reference to the kidnap warning recently issued by the French Embassy for this particular road), they offer us tea and barely even glance at our invalid visas.

Sharing a glass of tea

On a low: We cycle past a truck accident, no one is hurt but there is fuel all over the road. It coats the tyres in a greasy layer and we nearly fall of our bicycles trying to brake, we then have to clean it off before heading down a bit of a hairy hill…

Scary stuff

On a high: We reach Ouahigouya and the end of the piste, smooth tarmac stares us in the face and a friendly ‘ça va?’ calls out from next to a cart full of mangoes, we lean the bikes against a signpost for cold coca cola, time for a break…

Djenné, the dry dry road and decisions ahead…

Mikaela’s triumphat arrival at the ferry crossing to Djenné

Djenné did not really welcome us; a flat tyre, disappearing daylight and a mass of children demanding gifts.

After a tough day of bum adjustment back on the bicycles we crashed early and limited ourselves the next day to market-and-mosque-meandarings only (after our rushed exit from Bamako we still had a mountain of bike jobs left to do!).

Djenné’s history is rich and colourful, between the 15th and 17th century it was an important town of the trans-Saharan trade route. Centuries ago precious goods such as gold and salt passed through this town. Now in the aftermath of its economic decline the tourists are the most precious things passing Djenné’s narrow lanes. But whilst the impact of tourism shows its irritating face, the city’s Sudanese- style architechture remains beautiful, particularly the Grand Mosque; a sun-baked mud brick structure with smooth curves, touched only by the annual rains after which the whole community works together to restore the structure to its former glory.

Djenné’s famous Grand Mosque

Djenné’s equally famous market

The dust from Djenné’s weekly market begins to settle

Now we have reached Sévaré, 120 evil, hot, sandy, unforgiving desert kilometers from Djenné. Here we hoped to hear good news on the military mutiny and civil unrest in Burkina Faso. But just three days from Burkina Faso’s border we hear mostly bad reports and new warnings against the route. In what will be our last internet stop before passing the frontier and with only three days to go it seems we have some big decisions to make.

Imran crosses what was once a river

Mikaela’s Shimano shoe gets stuck to her pedal!

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.

DSC_0378

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.

DSC_0394

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.

DSC_0401

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…

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…