Sunday, November 25, 2007

"A Very Important Meeting in the Realm at the Heart of the Moon"

Toumani is a child who was born in my hands. I knew Toumani as a child and I also worked a lot with his father, Sidiki Diabate, who has contributed a lot to sharing traditional culture between Guinea and Mali. I know Toumani as an artist today, and he is someone I admire and whom I will keep admiring. I know that Toumani has faith, he holds the key to Malian music, and ten million Malian artists live in his shadow.

I am Arma and Toumani is a Griot I am from the Songrai/Peul culture in the north and he is a Mande from the South. It's rare that musicians meet like this from different traditions. But there is something that unites us and it is art and culture, which have no borders. We both work toward the same goal, for the same things, therefore colour is not an issue, and musical differences are not an issue. This did not start yesterday. Whether you are Tamaschek, Peul, Hassabia, Songhai or Sonrai, you are Malian. Wherever you make your bed, you are still Malian.

I don’t need to rehearse with Toumani. I never rehearse when it comes to music, because the inspiration will come to me at the right moment; I know what I am doing, I know what I want. Music is part of the fabric of my body and makes my spirit grow. Sincerely, music quenches the thirst in my heart. It is my gift, my gift of knowledge. It is the same for Toumani: he is a phenomenon of African culture. The Kora is born with Toumani. There is no competition between us, no hate, no jealousy. You cannot be jealous of God and of what he gives. And with his instrument, Toumani is able to do whatever he wants. We never talked about the repetoire. We don’t need to plan ahead. We didn’t need to improvise. It’s perfectly normal that I know this material. First it was his father who told me about it. I know Toumani understands. For me, this African culture is part of the fabric of my life, of my inspiration and intelligence. This recording is a natural wish we all share.

These are songs which belong to a repertoire that goes back to a very artistically fertile period, the 50’s and 60’s. A time between the end of colonisation and the birth of the independence, a very important period. And I am very pround of it. This album was made in order to share our knowledge with the new generation, to bring this period back to life and show the significance of this time and the opportunities we had.

If you know something and don’t want to share it, then you are selfish. You came after someone, and someone else will come after you. You can’t learn the entire sea by heart. No. This is why God created waves in the River and in the Sea. Some leave, and some come. I met Keita Fodiba in 1956 when he was playing this music and he was my inspiration to pick up the guitar. Everyone needs to participate in making sure our culture is healthy, in helping preserve our heritage. And today in Mali, in Bamako, we are working so very hard to fight against the way the Third World is being plundered. And I hope that we will succeed.
-Ali Farka Toure

The first time I heard about Ali Farka Toure was when I heard his music on radio Mali when I was a child. It was really strange music for me , but very good. He’s one of the great, great, great musicians. Nobody does what Ali does. He is one of a kind; he is the lion of the desert, the lion of Niafunke in the north. And I am very proud to have met him and proud to be able to play with him and mix both our types of music. People will be very surprised when they hear Ali play Manding music, which is the music of the Griot people, on his guitar, because Ali is very famous for playing the Blues. He is a prophet of the Blues. All of us were so surprised to see Ali have a connection with this kind of music. He flicked one of his lion’s claws that no one knew about and produced these ancient pieces.

I said to Ali, “We must rehearse.” He said, “No Toumani, we’ll try to work together in a natural way. There won’t be any problem.” He took up his guitar, I had my Kora. Jerry had set up all the microphones ready to go. We played a few notes, chose a key and off we went... Voila. And it was done. In the blink of an eye it was finished. There was never any complication in what we did. We had already reflected on ourselves. There was a way of thinking within us that was strong. I know what I need to do for Ali and Ali knows what he needs to do for me... That’s what’s amazing. It will stay with me forever. That was the essence of this music - this complementary nature.
-Toumani Diabate
It was he beginning of the rainy season in July 2004. We’d set up in the beautiful “Toit de Bamako” conference room on the top floor of the Hotel Mande - looking out over the breadth of the River Niger. Fishermen in their pirogues moved slowly back and forth over the water. Then the pirogues would disappear , the sky would darken and with a great thunderclap, the recording console, the lights and everything else would go out.

Ali and Toumani were sitting opposite each other, close together. Instruments were tuned, microphones were placed, sound levels were set and off they went.

Each of them would suggest or remind the other of a song by playing the first few notes of the melody and that was basically it. Beyond the basic song structures, it was completely improvised. If one of them wanted to make a solo, he’d nod to the other. At times it seemed like they were just sitting on a groove (albeit a wonderful groove), then one of them would start damping a string, the other would follow suit, and you had this very detailed interaction that I didn’t fully appreciate until we got to the mixing stage. Every single note that both of them played was absolutely meant. For three days every afternoon they played for an hour or two. These sessions were very relaxed, but the concetration between the two of them was intense. The order that appears on the record is exactly the order they played it. There were no second takes. Nothing was edited. The only comparable experience I’ve had was the first Ruben Gonzales album, where every note played is what the record is. They hardly spoke during the sessions. They didn’t need to.

Sometimes I had the thrilling sense of eavesdropping on a moment of very special and intimate communication. Listening to this record, you’d think they played together all their lives. Yet they’d played for a total of three hours before this - spread over fifteen years.

I’d be so completely absorbed by the music. We needed absolute quiet in the room while they were recording since the Kora is such a very quiet instrument. A song would end and you’d realize you’d been holding your breath, hypnotized. It was terrible when those sessions ended. I wish I could have afternoons like that everyday of my life...
-Nick Gold
In the Year’s leading up to Mali’s independence in 1960, part of the struggle against colonial rule was the search for a modern - and indigenous - identity. Music played a crucial role in this.

Many musician’s, especially Mande Griots living on either side of the Mali/Guinea border, became involved in an informal cultural movement in which the guitar was the preferred instrument: it could emulate the sounds and styles of the local instruments but was not tied to any one ethnicity or ritual. They developed an acoustic fingerpicking guitar style, drawing on the interlocking techniques of Balafon and the delicate ornaments of the Ngoni. They composed new songs that had a lighter, more popular feel than the old Mande Griot classics, with rolling harmonies and laid back rhythms. The lyrics were often philosophical and often talked about the importance of passionate love, in defiance of arranged marriage, which even today in many parts of Mali remains the norm. Some local writers, such as the novelist Massa Makan Diabate, began referring to it as “Jamana Kura” - meaning “New Age/Era.” It was as much about the feeling and free approach to playing as it was about the songs themselves. It lasted from the 50’s right through until the late 60’s when the music of dance orchestras and apollo bands took over.
- Lucy Duran

(photo credits:Christina Jaspars, Mali)

No comments: