News & Reviews
- Friday, January 18, 2013
In response to the current situation in Mali, Fatoumata Diawara has gathered together over 40 of Mali’s most renowned musicians in a studio in Bamako to record a song and video calling for peace titled "Mali-ko" (Peace / La Paix). Known collectively as Voices United for Mali, the group includes Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Afel Bocoum, Bassekou Kouyate, Vieux Farka Toure, and others. Watch the video and read the lyrics and their translation here.
About this Album
The debut album from Malian singer, guitarist, composer, and protégé of the late Ali Farka Touré. Recorded at the same sessions that produced Touré’s album Niafunké and featuring the legendary guitarist on two songs.
Afel Bocoum, Malian singer and guitarist, follows in the footsteps of legendary musician Ali Farka Touré. Fellow musicians and farmers, both live in the desert town of Niafunké on the Niger River bend, and both have a deep attachment to their native Sonrai cultural traditions. Bocoum was a member of Touré’s group ASCO for more than 30 years, since the age of 13, and his mesmeric vocals and arrangements will be familiar from his collaborations with Touré on the acclaimed album The Source, for example in the songs "Inshanah Macina" and "Dofana."
By profession an agricultural advisor, Bocoum has had to divide his time in Mali between music and work. He performed alongside Touré on some of his European tours beginning in 1991; but prior to Alkibar, his only recording had been for The Source. His own group, featured on this recording, the Niafunké-based Alkibar (meaning, “Messenger of the great River” in Sonrai), is well-known locally, but had not traveled abroad, and had never been recorded before. It is the first album ever recorded entirely on location in Niafunké, and devoted purely to local musicians.
Whereas so far Bocoum had been in the shadow of his mentor, this album offers him the space to reveal his own powerful talents as singer, guitarist, and composer—with Touré’s blessing. (Ali Farka Touré is featured on lead guitar for two songs). Its power lies in its simplicity, its rolling melodies and rhythms, compulsive choruses, and sense of space and peace. This is music which reflects perfectly the vast horizons, swirling colors, and timelessness of the Niger river itself—it is truly a “message from the great river."
The group Alkibar consists of two acoustic guitars, a one-string (njarka) fiddle, a done-string (njurkle) lute, calabash and djembe percussion, two female singers as well as male singers in the choruses, which punctuate the music throughout—led by Bocoum’s haunting vocals.
Bocoum is a gentle-mannered, unassuming man whose primary concern is the welfare of his country and his people. He believes that music is the most powerful medium to address the growing problems of Malian society as it moves ever further away from its traditional cultural values. “In the countryside in Mali we don’t go to the cinema or read newspapers; but we all listen to music. Music is the most important means of getting information across. So I feel a strong responsibility to speak the truth when I sing, because I know people will heed what I say,’ remarks Bocoum.
His songs are philosophical comments on society today: “If you betray one woman, you betray all women” ("Yarabitala"); “We live in a crazy world with no respect; tomorrow we’ll be judged by our children” ("Salamm aleikum"); “Parents, do not force your daughters to marry; a home will never flourish without true love” ("Mali woymoyo").
Recording of the album came about when World Circuit producer Nick Gold went out to Niafunké with engineer Jerry Boys (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) armed with portable state-of-the-art studio equipment. Two albums were planned: Bocoum’s debut and Ali Farka Touré’s new World Circuit recording. All of Touré’s previous albums had been recorded in Europe or the US and it was Gold’s firm belief that there was a special quality and power to Touré’s music when performed at home in Niafunké, which could never be properly duplicated elsewhere.
After a 14-hour drive across endless scrub land, they met up an informal studio in an old agricultural school about four kilometers from Niafunké. “The school had once been functional, but the rains had destroyed the roof,” says Bocoum, “so it was an empty shell, filled with rubble and snakes and mosquitoes. We were only 150 meters from the Niger, and it was hot, so hot! Every time a car went by, or children passed nearby, we had to stop recording, and start all over again. It took six days to do our album. This was the first time I had recorded with my own group, but I can say that there was a fantastic atmosphere. We were much more at ease than if we’d been at a studio. We felt at home. When we had to re-do a song, we did it straight away, no problem, with spirit. I don’t think we could every have captured the same feeling in a studio.”
Bocoum sings mainly in his native Sonrai language and also in Tamashek (the language of the Tuareg) and in Peul. This reflects his own ethnicity—his father is Sonrai and his mother is Fula—as well as the mixed ethnicity of Niafunké itself. His music is in a style that is reminiscent of Touré’s, but at the same time quite distinctive, a touch more understated. Each song flows in and out of different circular rhythms, creating an entrancing sense of inner depth.
Though thrilled to have made his first solo album, Bocoum, with characteristic modesty, always defers to his musical mentor.
“Toure is my 'tonton’ [affectionate term for uncle]," says Bocoum. “I owe everything to him. He opened my eyes to the world. He says that when he retires from music—maybe soon—he’s decided to place the responsibility of Niafunké’s music on my shoulders. I’m proud and honored that he’s entrusted this important role to me”. It would be difficult to imagine someone better placed than Bocoum to take on this role, both musically and spiritually.Continuing to work locally as organizer of agricultural educational programs at a time when Mali was undergoing severe droughts, he realized that he could use his music to spread the message about the importance of cultivating the land. He formed his own group Alkibar in the early ‘80s and developed his own repertoire of compositions, like Dofana, the epic songs that is the centerpiece of the album The Source. It documents the exemplary efforts of the people of Dofana village to irrigate their harsh desert land, not far from Niafunké.
This song is now “continued” in a second part of Bocoum’s album as "Dofana II." “Many people of Dofana are Touareg, the nomads of the desert. Not only did they experience problems with water, but then there was fighting between the Touareg and the Mali government. Most Touareg had to flee the country. They became refugees in Mauritania. But the people of Dofana, they wanted to stay and carry on their irrigation work, and not get involved in the fighting. In 'Dofana II,' I praise them, in their language (Tamashek) for putting their efforts into the struggle for the land, and not for the war. But during the long negotiations for peace, they couldn’t dedicate themselves to agriculture. So it’s a story of success, but there’s a sad side to it as well. 'Dofana' is based on a poem by the great Malian writer Amadou Hampate Ba called L’étrange destin de Wangara. The Touareg who live there, are very powerful mystics. Mohammed de Dofana was the leader; his father was very famous, he could control wild animals—even lions.”
Bocoum was also the arranger of "Inshanah Macina," one of the most outstanding songs from the album The Source. “It’s a very old song from Timbuktu; you can sing it in different ways according to which language you use. It means 'May God pardon us.' Originally it was a song without accompaniment, in praise of the Prophet Mohammed, a kind of qasida [devotional poem]. But I gave it a rhythm, and arranged it for the dance band of Timbuktu. The first who sang it in the orchestra was Abou Bouya, but it became popular when I started singing it.”
“On this new album, I try to follow through my idea that music must have a message.
“The song 'Ciro Kayna' means little dove in Sonrai. I take the message of peace, union and harmony between the whites and blacks. I ask myself the question, if Adam and Eve were white, then where do we come from? Why is it that when an African speaks, no-one listen, but if a white person speaks, everyone listens? We all have the same red blood that runs in our veins. We Africans must work to find our own solutions to problems for ourselves.
"'Mali Woymoyo' means 'our sisters' in Sonrai. Whenever a young girl is engaged to be married in a village, if she doesn’t like the man, she runs away to Bamako (the capital). Because Bamako is so far away, it’s difficult for the villagers to find her. I say, stop this business of forced marriages. It’ll make us lose our culture, because the families lose dignity and name. I call on the parents to change their mentality. A home will never succeed with someone whom you don’t love. Marriage is becoming more and more difficult: we need to rethink it.
"'Jaman Mora' means 'very long time' in Sonrai. The youth only like to enjoy themselves these days, they don’t want to work. In the old days, only the old men had the right to lie back to rest, they’d earned it after a long life of hard work. I sing a proverb which symbolizes this: it says, we know how to receive guest, but we don’t have the means to do so.
“'Alhasidi' means the egoist in Sonrai. It says, If ever you wish ill of others, your evil wish will always return back on you.
“'Yarabitala' means betrayal. The traitor doesn’t only betray himself, but a whole people. When you betray one woman, you betray all women. The traitor will face judgement when he faces God.
“In 'Salam Aleikum,' I sing, I greet you my brothers with the truth. We are in a crazy world with no respect. Tomorrow we’ll be judged by our children. Our misunderstandings are the result of a lack of sense of reality. The elders have gone; they alone could unite the village. Those who are left, mix politics with our social problems. Be careful because our society is in danger of coming unstuck. We think we’re taking a step forward, but all the time, we’re taking two steps backwards. Only music can make people sit up and think about where they’re heading.”
Afel Bocoum, lead guitar, lead vocals
Ali Farka Touré, lead guitar (2,6)
Yoro Cisse, njurkle guitar
Hamma Sankare, calabash
Souleye Kane, djembe, calabash
Djeneba Doukore, Fatoumata Traore, chorus vocals
Guidado Diallo, njarka violin
Ali Konta, guitar
Hamidou Sare, backing vocals
Produced by Nick Gold
Recorded by Jerry Boys
Assistant recording engineer: Yves Wernert
Recorded in the village of Niafunké, Mali
Mixed by Jerry Boys
Assistant mixing engineer: Simon Burwell
Mastered by Jerry Boys and Tom Leader
Mixed and mastered at Livingston Studios, London
Photography by Christien Jaspars
Design by Julian House
This album is available from Nonesuch in the United States and Canada only.