In a previous post, we told of Canadian banjo picker Jayme Stone’s journey through West Africa in preparation for an upcoming CD based on African banjo music. He has agreed to send us a series of updates from Africa – a banjo travelogue of sorts. Part 3 follows – with photos.
You can read all of his African journey posts here.
Is it ever nice to come back to modern civilization! I’ve spent the last week traveling rural Mali and visiting the Dogon Country. Village after village with only minimal connection to modernity and a way of life largely unchanged for thousands of years. Also extreme poverty along the way. The Dogon is a collection villages strung along an enormous escarpment. Some are tucked into rock itself, the rest spotting the valley and plateau. The whole region is hike-able and has become a tourist/traveler mecca in recent years. There’s a fascinating (and uneasy) clash between the ancient village life and the presence of tourist dollars, curiosity and influence.
The highlight for me was meeting Seydou Are Gindou, a cultured young artist from the village of Ende. He plays a two string banjo-like instrument called a Konou. It’s made from the wood of a fig tree and stretched with goat skin. For you banjo aficianados, the instrument is played clawhammer style. Exactly. Under the light and sway of the full moon, we had an impromptu concert complete with konou, calabash, talking drum and about 15 women singers. The music accompanies long storytelling songs about everything from witches to farming to one about a young man who (upon seeing the sky was hanging low) reaches to swipe a star with his hand. By the the wee hours, we had half the village crowded around the fire and music, along with a crop of boys just returning from their annual circumcision ceremony atop the escarpment!
We also spent time in Sevarre, Mopti and Bandiagara. Amadou and I used local transportation the whole time. It was grueling and exhausting: not always pleasant, but always a circus. Yesterday was a marathon day back to Bamako. There were times I felt on the brink of survival. Some statistics:
Number of passengers: 64
Was there any A/C or even an open window: No
Did people eat deep fried mutton and raw yams with their bare hands: Constantly
What one thing is used as a garbage, a seat, a bed and playpen for the children: The aisles
Was it a small miracle when I found a bakery in San that made Parisian quality croissants: Bismillah!
How long was the bus ride from Djenne to Bamako: 12 hours
Who we hitched a ride with from the market to the bus depot: 5 Tuaregs, 8 goats and 4 black chickens
What happens at sundown: The bus pulls over the side of the road and everybody faces Mecca to pray
I could spin stories forever, but we’ll have to wait until I’m back on North American soil. For now, some travel photos will do. Coming up: I start work at the National Institute for the Arts, see Amadou and Miriam at the Institute for the Blind and possibly visit to Boubacar Traore in Lafiabougou.