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Hitting The Rhythm Stick

Another notable guest was Zoumana Tereta, who provides pleasingly raw vocals and soku (one-string violin) to the tunes Mbowdi and Bala. “I love his voice,” enthuses Bassekou. “He’s from Segu, he isn’t a jeli (griot) but he knows the tradition.” Bluesy singer and guitarist Lobi Traore (who appeared on Damon Albarn’s Mali Music project and subsequently had an album of his own on Honest Jons, see fR268) adds the one piece of amplification on the album, lending stinging electric guitar lines and gruff vocals to the well-known Bamana song Banani (The Silk Cotton Tree).

“Just to vary the texture a little, we thought we’d have his electric guitar on just one track,” Bassekou tells me. “He’s also from Segu, although he’s also not a jeli, but he’s got the Segu feeling.” Bassekou’s wife, Ami Sacko, sings lead on three tracks (including a song in praise of her husband and a lament for the late Ali Farka Toure) and provides backing vocals throughout. Before you shout ‘nepotism!’ it should be noted that she and Bassekou met on the Bamako music scene, where Ami is a highly rated and popular singer in her own right. In fact she used to be known as ‘the Tina Turner of Mali’ as she looks a bit like Ike’s ex and even adopted a similar hairstyle at one point. “She’s not Bamana,” Lucy explains. “She’s from Kaso, up in the north-west, but she’s obviously learnt songs from Bassekou.”

Up until now, the Out Here label has been the place to go for all your African hip-hop, dancehall and kwaito needs. Not everyone’s cup of cassava to be sure, but I’ve found all of their releases fresh and entertaining. Given the nature of most of the music that he releases, I was half expecting label boss Jay Rutledge to be some kind of Germanic Ali G figure and was pleasantly surprised by the big, easy-going bloke that he turned out to be. Jay’s background is in music journalism and he started Out Here in 2004, having compiled the excellent Globalista and Africa Raps! CDs for Trikont. “When I was travelling through Africa,” he explains, “I found there was a certain type of music that’s very popular there, but you could barely find here. That was hip-hop, which was the musical language that young people in places such as Senegal, Gambia and Mali, were using to communicate with, but which I felt was being excluded internationally.”

So how did he end up working with Bassekou? “The idea of the label was always just to represent what was there. I went to Mali to interview Toumani and I met Lucy. She suggested we went for a drink. When we got to the bar, Bassekou was playing (which Lucy had obviously known). I really liked what I heard and we took it from there.” Initially they talked to Nick Gold about doing something through World Circuit, as he’d already expressed an interest in working with Bassekou, but Nick felt that he couldn’t do anything for a year or so and as Bassekou was keen to capitalise on the success of Toumani, Ali et al., so Jay decided to jump in and record him for Out Here.

fRom fRoots 287, May 2007


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