Tag Archives: ngoni

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

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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)

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.

Tiwitine

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!