Tag Archives: music

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…

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

music cycles’ first promo video…

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.

“You have to get used to the local colours…”

“Yes, yes! It’s a beautiful and modern house, much better than these houses!”, he gestured to the homes that stood behind him.

“Ok, can we have a look inside?”

“Well no, I don’t have the key.”

As we began to grow uncomfortably accustomed to the ways of the Malian estate agent, we had sighed and waited for his moped riding cousin to arrive with the keys. We eventually looked around the flat with its lovely balcony overlooking the road. Beyond the road was a dark expanse (we only made it by evening time), I assumed this was a field or some rocks.

It might be a huge rubbish heap,” joked Mikaela.

Returning by daylight the following morning we found that it was indeed a huge rubbish heap.

Becoming frustrated, we wandered the streets hoping that a chance encounter with a shop owner might lead us to an empty apartment (which we were beginning to suspect was the modus operandi of the estate agents we were having to pay per viewing).

 

The busy meat market and moped shed in Bamako Coura (New Bamako)
 

Fruit ‘n veg at last!
 

Mikaela happy after a tasty chawarma for lunch (Malian style meat sandwich)
 

The view of the other side of the river Niger and Bamako central- the place we want to move to!
 

The reality of Bamako’s insane roads!

You have to get used to the local colours” Amkoullel had offered the previous evening. As we sat in the tiny room of an underground bar we had tried to make sense of the sound system cranked up on full volume and realised there was still some distance to make before we could feel at home in Bamako.

The extreme reverb, the delay effects and of course the volume levels…

Only that morning Mikaela had once again woken up with the black clouds of her grumpy homesick mood hanging over both of us and now Amkoullel’s words rang in our ears as loud as the evenings musical entertainment. We just had to get used to the local colours of Bamako.

 

Laughing Amkoullel turned to us once more and with the wisdom only he can sprinkle on a sentence added, “You won’t be growing old with good ears if you come here everynight…”.

From its manic traffic to the extreme sound of its live music, Bamako has an exhausting energy and the only way for us to love this city is to match that energy, with the same colourful smile that it always seems to offer us.

Festival Waakono: 2011…

Reaching Ke-Massina had been stressful. Imran had watched his guitar fly off the roof of our moving bus onto the dusty road behind us and we had both begun to wonder if our long journey from Bamako would be worth it.

The driver didn’t seem to think a guitar would need attaching

But to our surprise the guitar survived its fall at 50 km per hour and as we arrived in the tiny village things began to look up.

A nice welcome committee

Greeted by dinner and friendly faces, we had a quick jam before jumping in a pinasse to cross the River Niger reaching the small island of sand where the Festival Culturel Waakono would take place.

Boat Crossing

As we left the pinasse and paddled through the river water to the island we spotted the small stage area. Fairy lights flashed neon blue, strung over wooden poles with electrical cables creeping over one another. Large crowds of locals gathered, a circle formed around the stage and the smell of brochettes warmed the fresh river air.

Imran and Flo enjoying some music

It was not difficult to see that this festival was different. A little bit special. Organised and financed by Malian musicians for the benefit of the local people and for us, a lovely place to play our first gig of Mali

Us playing!

The ride back to Segu was much more fun than anticipated