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Mali Kan - The Sound of Mali

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S: M A L I K A N - T h e S o u n d o f M a l i

FC: M A L I K A N | T h e S o u n d o f M a l i

1: M A L I K A N | M u s i c a n d I m a g e s f r o m M a l i , W e s t A f r i c a | T h e S o u n d o f M a l i | b y R u s t y E k l u n d

2: The music of the Malian people is arguably their most precious cultural jewel. From dozens of ethnic groups we find numerous musical styles, dozens of instruments, songs, and dances unique to each group, children portraying the festivities and musical styles of their parents on everyday utensils, and a general connection to rhythm, in both action and social life, that defines who they are and their uniqueness on this planet. The Jeli (historian/musician/orators) have been recording the history of the Malian people for more than 1,000 years through story, music, and song. This active connection to their history and ancestry provides a sense of identity never conquered by the former colonialist French. Their music, instruments, and traditions are alive and well, as they have been for a millenium.. Today we recognize that many forms of global popular music have been influenced by the Malian traditions through the displacement of Africans to the Americas. Most notably, Blues music has many structures that emulate elements of the Malian repertoire, and the Africans themselves recognize the connections between their music and the development of the blues. Prominent musical styles of lower Mali include: Djembe ensemble - This hand drum and the accompanying drums are possibly the most recognized of the Malian instruments. | Bonkolo - Prominent Bamana drumming style Maninka Jeli - Masters of harps, guitars, slat balas and drums, numerous Grammy nominees come from this group Doson n'goni -6-string pentatonic hunter's harp Kamale n'goni - The popular version of the doson n'goni, a 6-12 string harp. Khassonke - Talking Drums and Dununba Senufo/Minianka/Bobo Bala A unique style of two balas and gourd drums Modern Fusion - Traditional instruments mixed with electric guitars, keyboards and drums Music is much more in Mali than simply some tunes on a radio, or an endless string of non-consequential videos. It is pervasive in every aspect of the Malian experience and defines them as a culture with a rich, long tradition. From the simple, steady flow of people working in the field, to the complex music of the most accomplished Malian musicians, life, in all its forms, appears to be one continuous rhythm. Please allow me to share with you a few of the people I met, the music they play, and the beautiful culture I witnessed during 9 years of study in Mali and Guinea. Thank you for your interest. Rusty

3: Jeli Fili Kora Bamako, Mali | Lamine Soumano Bamako, Mali | Bazou Sissoko N'tamani Bamako, Mali

4: B a m a k o , M a l i | D j e m b e

5: T h e D j e m b e | The jenbe (djembe, as a French approximation) is one of the more popular instruments of the people from West Africa and has gained world-wide recognition during the past three decades. It is used as both an accompanying and lead or solo instrument, its incredible range of sound setting it apart from any other drum. It is an instrument of communal celebration and no specific caste or group possesses the knowledge of its music, anyone can come to the djembe. To truly know the djembe, one must follow the path of the jenbefolla, learning from masters the intricacies of the instrument and its rhythms during a years-long apprenticeship. There are many stories recounting the history of the djembe, most all of which credit the numu (blacksmiths) for bringing it to the people. The ability of the numu to understand the diab (spirit) within the tree and craft the instrument to specific detail is integral to creating a quality djembe. Over time, the djembe was developed in many ways by different groups of people, most prominently the Maninka, Bamana, and Maraka of Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, The Gambia, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. The recent popularity attained by the National Ballets of Guinea, Mali and Senegal, as well as the usage by modern popular artists, and recent grammy nominations for Malian musicians has propelled the djembe to world-wide recognition. The inception of the djembe appears to be accepted as lying in the region now divided by the border between Mali and Guinea, with the Maninka (Malinke, Mandingo) people, although many discrepancies exist with stories of the Bamana, Maraka, Fula, claiming the origins of the instrument. Ultimately, we find the heart of the djembe tradition in this Mande region with the people and National Ballets of the aforementioned countries holding the torch. What we know as the djembe today is somewhat different from the djembes once played in the villages of the Maninka, Bamana, Wassalou Fula, and Maraka. It has been modernized in both form and function through the development of the National Ballets, professional musicians, traveling artists and students, and foreigners seeking the joy and energy of West African music and dance. This flow of musical culture has thrust the djembe to the forefront of Malian music and elevated it to the status of West African ambassador to the world. The djembe ensemble typically consists of one lead djembe player, one or two accompaniment djembe players, one konkoni (small dunun) player, and one dununba (big dunun) player.

6: D j e m b e | M a h a m a d o u T r a o r e

7: N ' t a m a n i | B a z o u S i s s o k o

8: K o n d e n | D j o m a b a n a, G u i n e a | Present to honor warriors and important leaders

9: D j o m a b a n a , G u i n e a | D j e m b e

10: Many performance groups play with a n'taman (talking drum) as well. The konkoni provides the root of the rhythm being played, generally carrying a simple repeating rhythmic pattern, and in conjunction with the djembe accompaniment they provide the melodic rhythmic structure for the ensemble. Their rhythms provide the music for celebration on all occasions. Most every Thursday through Sunday drummers can be heard playing the wedding celebrations throughout the capitol city of Mali, Bamako. In many of the villages throughout lower Mali one will see the djembe ensemble, depending on their ethnic affiliation, as well as the bonkolo ensemble (Bamana, Bozo, Somono), the Khassonka Dunun ensemble (Khassonke, Kakalo, Maraka in western Mali), the n'tamanba of the Senufo/Minianka, the gi dunun and yabara of Wassalou, and the bara drums of the Bobo, Minianka, Bamana, and Senufo in southeastern Mali. It is important to note that this music has been preserved for centuries by farmers and fishermen, hunters and blacksmiths, common working folk, from father to son, master to apprentice, via aural learning. Although they recognize themselves that their repertoire has changed over time, they also make special note of rhythms which are older than others or which have significant root properties for the rest of the repertoire.

11: D u n u n | R o o t s of t h e R h y t h m The family of dunun drums from small to large, identifiable as a cylinder with skins on both ends, often struck by a curved mallet, can be found throughout most drumming styles in all of western Africa.

12: M a r k a l a , M a l i | B o n k o l o

13: T h e B o n k o l o | W e F o u n d i t W h e n W e G o t H e r e | The bonkolo drums are the principle drumming style of one of the most populous ethnic groups in Mali, the Bamana (Bambara). They have a long history tied to the formation and duration of the Mandé Empire. Their regional capitol centers around Segou, the former seat of the Bamana kingdom, yet they are dispersed throughout Mali. The Bamana language could be considered the true tongue of the nation, spoken by about 80% of the people, and it is closely related to the languages of the Maninka, Djoula, and Mandinka, dispersed throughout Guinea, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and The Gambia. The Bamana have a long history as being a very strong and warlike people, having taken control of a large region of Mali by force. There are stories of the fierce battles that they fought versus the French colonialists in the late 19th century, and they speak of this history with pride and fervor. Yet, today, they are a very peaceful people who seem to avoid conflict whenever possible, embracing democracy and all of the freedoms and responsibilities that come with a developing society. They are well respected throughout other ethnic groups as strong cultivators and excellent blacksmiths, as well as being feared as sorcerers, an aspect of Bamana culture that is alive and well in a small portion of the population. Some aspects of the animist past of the Bamana have endured through their form of practicing Islam, such as their use of talismans prepared by spiritual guides, or Muslim marabouts. Today, not much remains of the physical Bamana kingdom in the area near Markala and Segou, save a few gravesites of former kings, the remnants of a few structures, and the Canal de Dioro, a partially hand excavated aqueduct that has delivered water to farms for more than a century. The end of the 19th century was the end of an era for the Bamana people, the end of self-rule and cultural determination. As the center of the Bamana kingdom became the seat of French colonial activities in the region, many aspects of the Bamana culture slowly began to be overshadowed by the developments of the colonialists. Today, we see a strong, hard working people preserving their traditions while trying to modernize in the face of survival existence, truly a sight to behold.

14: C h i w a r a | M a r k a l a , M a l i Present at agricultural festivals

15: Bonkolo Ensemble

16: The Bamana culture is still filled with music (foly), dance (don), songs (donkili), theater (kotéba), marionettes (yiri mohgohni), masks (sogho), and numerous celebrations (nienajeh), which are all part of the joyful, community manifestations throughout the year. The Bamabara are well known for their Bonkolo drumming style and the communal dance that is accompanied by the music. The entirety of the bonkolo repertoire does not seem to be as extensive as the djembe ensemble repertoire, although there are still dozens of rhythms between the handful of ethnic groups that perform this style of drumming. Local history tells us that the one-half calabash drum and the yabara gourd shaker are the old-school instruments of the Bamana people and many of the bonkolo rhythms are rooted in the music of the original form. Whenever I inquired about the source of the Bonkolo drums the answer seemed to always be the same: "We found it when we got here". They do recognize that they probably adopted the drums from a neighboring Maraka group but have made it their own style with the addition of the kunanfa (chun/bara) and gangan as replacements for the original gourd bara drums. The Bpnkolo style is common also common among the Somono and Bozo although they often play without the kunanfa (large wooden bass drum). | Bonkolo Fegoun, Mali

18: B a l a | S i g u i r i , G u i n e a

19: T h e B a l a | S e c r e t o f S o u m a o r o | The Malian balas take on many forms. There are at least three unique balas present throughout lower Mali: the Maninka Jeli diatonic bala, the Senufo/Minianka pentatonic bala, and the Bamana pentatonic bala. These slat instruments with gourd resonators are one of the most recognizable sounds of the African continent. The intricate construction and tuning methods they use provide the unique west African sound. Specific woods caeved to recise tuning, paired with a gourd resonator tuned to a relative pitch, the gourd has a small hole on the side which was once covered by a unique spider's web, now replaced with plastic from a shopping sack. The history of the Maninka bala relates to the battles and icons that define the development of the Malian Empire. The Susu King, Soumaoro, was said to possess a magical item that gave him his invincibility, the Soso Bala. At that time the Soso were living in the Kulikoro region of central Mali. Soumaoro guarded the Soso bala as his most prized possession. This instrument is said to have been commandeered by the personal Jeli of the Maninka King Sunjata. This Jeli, Diakouma Doua, now known as Bala Fesseke Kouyate played the bala in such an inspiring manner that Soumaoro was tricked into reveling the source of his power. This was the secret that Sunjata needed to mount his offensive and it eventually led to the Maninka overtaking the Soso. This solidified Sunjata's position as Emperor of the land, triumphant over Soumaoro. The Soso moved to the coastal region of what is now Guinea (Conakry). The instrument itself rests at the heart of Malian melodies, driving the rhythmic/melodic interplay for which the west Africans are so well known. The original Soso Bala is said to reside in Niagasola, Guinea under the guard of the Kouyate family

22: D j o m a b a n a, G u i n e a | B o l o n

23: B o l o n N g o n i K o r a | E v o l u t i o n o f t h e W e s t A f r i c a n H a r p | The harps of west Africa have followed an logical evolution over the centuries. Bolon - A three string harp played by hunter's throughout lower Mali and upper Guinea. The instrument is constructed of a large calabash covered by goatskin, a formed wooden or bamboo neck, and plucked with the thumbs. An iron ring is often worn on one finger to provide polyrhythmic conversation Doson n'goni - A 6-string pentatonic hunter's harp played throughout lower Mali and upper Guinea. Constructed of a calabash frame covered by goatskin, a bamboo neck, and nylon or rawhide strings. The strings are arranged in two rows of three strings. Generally played with the thumb of one hand and the thumb/forefinger of the opposite hand. Kamale n'goni - A popularized version of te doson n'goni, this 6-string harp now is played as a 6, 8, 10, or 12-string instrument. Kora - A 21-string diatonic harp played by thejeli oftheManinka peol throughout west Africa. * The Simbi, a 7-string hunter's harp, and the Soron, a 12-string Jeli instrument, are also found in upper Guinea and lower Mali along the political border region. | Bolon | Kamale N'goni | Kora

24: J e l i M u s o | S i g u i r i , G u i n e a

25: T h e J é l i | H i s t o r y a n d H e r i t a g e T h r o u g h M u s i c | Dating back to the beginning of the Mali Empire, the Jeli have been the orators, bards, historians, political advisers, instigators and alleviators of family, community, and ethnic tensions, and the definers of the melodic structures that provide the lions share of the Malian repertoire. The Kouyate family of Siguiri, Guinea, or the “Konkoba family” as they are often referred to, possess a long, rich history and are the creators of a number of pieces of music recognized throughout the greater Mande cultures. They are masters of the songs and bala music integral to the preservation of the Mande history and are the creators and keepers of the Konkoba (see Cultural Icons section). Lamine Soumano is a nephew of this Kouyate lineage and it is at their home on one of my visits in Siguiri that I first met him. They play highly complex melodies and poly-rhythmic structures effortlessly changing time and feeling within the music. I have witnessed them play in various major and minor key structures and they are highly respected musicians throughout Mali and Europe (many family members reside in France and Belgium performing and teaching their family traditions). I had the good fortune to arrive one weekend when the Konkoba was brought out for the funeral of a local village chief (dugutigi). This was a grand event drawing musicians and respected elders from all over the region. I witnessed some spectacular bala music, song, and dance, as well as the bolon20 ensemble of Ibrahim Doumbia from Djomabana, Guinea. They are inviting people with an infectious joy. It was difficult to immediately comprehend that this was a funeral celebration. That same weekend Lamine arrived as he was passing to Bamako. Adja (the matriarch of the family) wanted to sing some songs with Lamine on the kora. Her son, Mamadou, played guitar and her daughter, Aminata, sang along with her. They invited me to come into the bedroom where they were playing and I sat on a bed facing the lot of them. It took me a minute to realize what was happening, eventually I pulled out my microphone and recorder and they gave me an accepting nod. This was a unique opportunity to be a fly on the wall in the griot home. Mother was recounting an old history, feeding lines to her daughter when she would take the lead. Her son and nephew were providing the musical basis for the recounting of important events that happened in the area. It was not a common piece, and it mesmerized EVERY Malian musician who later listened to it. Many of them had never heard the account before and were eager to glean all that they could from her mastery and knowledge.

26: L a m i n e S o u m a n o | Kouyate Family | S i g u i r i , G u i n e a

27: S i g u i r i , G u i n e a | K o n k o b a

29: T h e D a n c e | C u l t u r a l E x p r e s s i o n t h r o u g h M o v e m e n t | The dance of the Malian people is as varied and widely expressed as their music. In fact, as far as Malians are concerned, the two are inseparable. Typically, drums have been used for ceremony and celebration, whereas the focal point of the activity is generally the dancing; drummers are just there to provide the music. To this end everyone, including the drummers, is there to support the dance.The identifiable forms of traditional dance one sees in Mali would be in the villages of the different ethnic groups, on the streets of Bamako during celebrations, and in formalized performance groups. Just as the Minianka, with their balas, the Bamana with their bonkolo, the Khassonke with their taman and dununba, and the Maninka with the jenbe all have distinct musical styles with common rhythmic and melodic roots, so does their dance present itself. For the Minianka, the dance is very relaxed, yet upright with a subtle twisting motion. The Bambara (Bamana) will move as a group in a circle, making large, groove-oriented steps, later leading to acrobatic jumping by the men, while the Maninka djembe dance is more athletic and exclusive. The Maraka dance with large flowing arm movements, unlike the Fula, whose dance expression is more reserved. Like most forms of traditional education in Mali, one learns to dance by watching others and practicing when the occasion permits. The difference between trained westerners working to absorb the intricacies of Malian movement and the effortless ease that the Malian children dance with is easily recognizable. It is not something external to be learned, but rather something that already exists within, drawn out by the unavoidable rhythms that fill the air.

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  • By: Rusty E.
  • Joined: almost 6 years ago
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  • Title: Mali Kan - The Sound of Mali
  • A full color photo display of music and dance images from Mali, West Africa. Full text highlights from Rusty Eklund's 11 years of music and cultural experiences in Mali and Guinea. Includes a 12-track audio CD of traditional and modern music for the djembe, talking drum, dununs, bonkolo ensemble, kora, guitar, balafon, n'goni, and bolon hunter's harp.
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  • Published: over 5 years ago