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Hitting The Rhythm Stick

Bassekou Kouyate, Ali Farka Toure, Mama Sissoko
Photo: Christina Jaspars
Bassekou Kouyate, Ali Farka Toure, Mama Sissoko
“We wanted to give everything a realness. If you look at the picture on the cover, we haven’t taken out the mobile phone or the car, also to give a flavour of the many sides of griot culture. For the label, I think it’s good to put out something that’s musically 100%, because hip-hop is the music of producers and Africa’s not strong on the production side. So you can have tracks where the lyrics are very funny, but the music lags behind.” Hip-hop and Bassekou are also two ends of the same line. Follow hip-hop back to its roots, to funk, soul, blues… ultimately you get to Bassekou. “Also,” continues Jay, “the album sounds traditional, but it isn’t. It’s very structured, the chords are opened up. It takes a traditional note and blends in a minor or major chord. It opens up the music in all kinds of ways.”

Bassekou continues to be an ‘ngoni for hire’, playing with a number of local and international artists. When we meet, he’d recently been over to Dakar to contribute to tracks on Yousou N’Dour’s forthcoming album (which will apparently have an African blues flavour). He’s no longer a member of the Symmetric Orchestra, but “If Toumani called me tomorrow and asked me to work with him, I’d be there in a flash”. However, Ngoni Ba is increasingly his main gig. “My project now is to create an international awareness of the ngoni as an instrument that’s on a par with the kora and the balafon, because through all of my experience of performing, I’ve developed the techniques to be able to play the ngoni in any style or setting. I want the ngoni to be as powerful an instrument in Mali as the guitar.”

The signs are that this mission is proving successful. “Since I’ve started performing with Ngoni Ba, I’ve found that audiences, both inside and outside of Mali, love it, because they’ve never heard anything like it before. Out of a very old instrument, I’ve created something completely new and everybody goes wild when they hear it. I think now is the time for the ngoni.”

Thanks to Lucy Duran, Jay Rutledge and Ilka Schlockermann.

fRom fRoots 287, May 2007


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