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Tunes for a Monday Morning

With so much conflict and sorrow in the world right now, I'm going to start the week with the heart-centred music of Mali, which has a very long tradition of using songs and musical rhythms in support of physical, spiritual, and cultural healing.

Above: "kakKar," peformed by the great Boubacar Traoré, from Kayes in western Mali. His songwriting is rooted in the traditional music of the Mande cultural region mixed with influences ranging from Arab music to American blues.

Below: "Wassiye," performed by Habib Koité (and his band, Bamada), who comes from a long line of Khassonké griots in western Mali. He grew up listening to his paternal grandfather play the kamele n’goni, a traditional four-stringed instrument, and developed his distinctive guitar style (tuned to a pentatonic scale and played on open strings, like the kamale n'goni) while accompanying his griot mother.

Above, "Tinki Hiiri" performed by Afel Bocoum (and his band, Alkibar), who comes from Niafunké, on the Niger River in central Mali.  Bocoum, of the Sonrai people, grew up with the se galarare style of traditional music, which he learn from his father, a performer of the njarka and njurkel (single and double stringed instruments). At only 13, Bocoum went on tour with his uncle, the legendary Ali Farka Toure, playing in his uncle's band for ten years before striking out on his own. Bocoum sings primarily in Sonrai, his native language, but also in Tamasheq (the language of the Tuareg) and in Fulfulde (the language of the Fula people).

Below: a gorgeous song in which 40 musicians from different parts of Mali, and different ethnic cultures, join together in a call for peace. The musicians involved include Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate, Vieux Farka Toure, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabate, Khaira Arby, Kasse Mady Diabate, Baba Salah,  Tiken Jah, Amkoullel, Habib Koité, and Afel Bocoum. The project was created by Fatoumata Diawara, a singer/songwriter who blends the Wassalou traditions of southern Mali with jazz, soul, and other international influences. Diawara was born in Ivory Coast, spent her youth in Bamako (Mali's capital city), and now lives in France.

Go here to read about griots in modern Mali, and here to read about the threat to this tradition in Islamist areas where music has been banned.

And last: East meets west in "Chamber Music" by Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Ségal (of Bumcello). Sissoko is the son of  the great kora player Djelimady Sissoko, and, like most musicians from the griot caste, began playing and performing at a very young age.  He comes from Bamako in western Mali. Vincent Ségal comes from Reims.


In addition to the musicians mentioned above I also recommend Yaya Diallo, Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté (father & son kora players), Bassekou Kouyate, Kokanka Sata, and the Tuareg music of Tinariwen and Tartit -- though there's so much good music coming out of Mali that it's  impossible to list it all.