Alumaye (meaning “have you heard?), is the second international album release from kamele n’goni maestro and singer-songwriter Massa Dembele (Burkina Faso). Alumaye combines modern afropop and the traditional sounds of western Burkina Faso.
Alumaye was recorded between Wagadugu, Burkina Faso and Tamale, Ghana. In addition to the kamele n’goni harp, Massa included Burkinabe indigenous percussion, balaphone, flute, bass and guitar.
Mali’s musical landscape is a fair bit dimmer with the death of Issa Bagayogo. The singer and musician passed away after a long illness on October 10, 2016. Mr. Bagayogo was 55.
Born in to a poor family in the small village of Korin in a section of the Bougouni Cercle, a part of the Sikasso region of Mali, Mr. Bagayogo found his way to music as a young boy by way of the daro, an iron bell struck to set the rhythm of field workers in Mali, before picking up and learning to play the kamele n’goni, a six-stringed instrument similar to an oud or guitar found in West Africa. He garnered local attention with his playing and singing local songs before heading off to Bamako in 1991 to record his first cassette that didn’t seem to catch on with music fans. Soon, another cassette followed in 1993, again without much success.
Dispirited and working as a bus driver, Mr. Bagayogo sunk into depression and addiction, losing his wife and the bus driving job as a result. This low point would take him back to his home village and essentially disappear from the music scene. By the late 1990s, Mr. Bagayogo would finally put his life back on track by quitting the drugs, travel back to Bamako and fashion his own sound out of the musical traditions of his home region with those of rock, funk, electronica and dub styles.
Earning the nickname “Techno Issa” by way of his mix of Mali’s musical roots and western dance, Mr. Bagayogo earned a name not only through his singing and playing, but also by way of his music that tacked such issues as cultural pride, drug use, AIDS and other social issues. Throughout his career, Mr. Bagayogo worked with keyboardist and producer Yves Wernert and bandmates and guitarists Karamoukou Diabate and Mama Sissoko. Mr. Bagayogo would go on to record Sya, Timbuktu, Tassoumakan and Mali Koura, all on the Six Degrees Records label.
In a statement, Six Degrees Records said, “All of us at Six Degrees Records are greatly saddened to learn that our friend and artist, Issa Bagayogo has passed away after a lengthy illness. He was a kind and gentle soul, whose music touched many people around the world & moved many a dance-floor.”
Mr. Bagayogo will be returned to his home village in Korin Bougouni for burial.
I suspect that unseen, undiscovered masters of all shapes, sizes and disciplines brush past us unnoticed and move on their way through life and probably more often than we would really be comfortable with if we had the slightest inkling. So, it must be a real coup for the art seller, movie director or record producer to catch that kind of brilliance and be able to hang it on the wall, capture it on film or snag that illusive talent on tape. There’s that one moment where the extraordinary is captured for all time. It must be like picking out that shiny bit from the dullness and slipping it into a pocket like a found treasure. Nothing could be truer of that shiny bit of brilliance captured than Sterns Africa’s release of Malian musician Vieux Kante’s The Young Man’s Harp.
Known throughout Mali’s Bamako’s music scene, but really unknown to the rest of the world’s musical landscape, Vieux Kante was the master of the kamele ngoni, going so far to add a couple of strings to the instrument to achieve his own vision of what the instrument could become.
Thrumming strings to capture the rhythm, bending notes like a seasoned blues singer and even mimicking the sound of a Brazilian cuica on the kamele ngoni, Mr. Kante, along with his band of jembe drummer, bassist and singer Kabadjan Diakite, crafted a sound that’s dazzling. The unfortunate tragedy is that music was silenced in 2005 when Mr. Kante died unexpectedly at the age of 31. But the clever producer Cheikh Oumar Kouyate saw the shiny treasure of Mr. Kante’s music for what it was and recorded Mr. Kante and that recording is now available as the release of The Young Man’s Harp.
A real treat for Malian music fans, The Young Man’s Harp opens with the fiery rich ‘Sans Commentaire’ with bluesy twists and turns that showcases the true mastery of Mr. Kante’s range on the kamele ngoni against a backdrop of percussion and bass. At first, the piece comes across as spare before the whirlwind of incendiary playing takes over.
‘Lambanco’ is ripe with that familiar feel good cheer of Malian revolving rhythm and vocals. The tracks ‘Fatoumata’ with vocalist Kabadjan Diakite and ‘Saradia’ are truly standout tracks. Listeners get a real sense of the complexity and mastery of Mr. Kante’s playing with these two tracks as they showcase hints at hard rock, Brazilian and jazz sensibilities woven into fabric of the music.
Equally delicious are the tracks ‘‘Sinamon,’ ‘Nafolo’ and the catchy closing track ‘Kono.’
I have no doubt that had Mr. Kante lived he and his band would have blazed a path across the world music scene. Brilliance might have just brushed past us, so it’s lucky someone caught and captured the bright, shiny strains of Mr. Kante’s music so that we might have it for a long, long time.
Mamadou Sidibe was the first person to change the traditional Malian instrument the doso ngoni, to the now popular kamele ngoni. He changed the number of strings from 6 to 7 and completely changed the melodies from sacred hunters songs to popular music of contemporary African life. He then went on to tour with Malian greats Coumba Sidibe, Oumou Sangare and Ramatu Piakite in Africa, Europe and the US.
Now Mamadou blends his Wassulu melodies with American blues in this new collaboration with his wife, Vanessa Sidibe. Vanessa is an accomplished Afro-Cuban and Salsa musician from the San Francisco Bay Area. She is a multi-linguist, who sings in Spanish, French, English and Bambara (one of Mali’s languages).
Mamadou & Vanessa’s first CD, “Nacama (Destiny),” picked up several awards in 2006, including Best World Song in the Billboard Songwriting Contest and Best World Traditional Song at the Independent Music Awards.
The Sidibes merge two languages (Bambara and English), two cultures and two musical threads, telling soul stories of love, politics and spiritual life.