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 4 follows – with photos.
You can read all of his African journey posts here.
It’s been a while since my last broadcast. I’ve not had a spare moment since falling into the well of Bamako’s music scene last week. I started work at the National Institute for the Arts, an incredible resource, full to the brim with elder professors, wide-eyed students and an ambience of both high-brow education and down-home oral tradition. In a matter of hours I had interviewed Cheick Oumar Mara about the banjo’s roots, played with Toumani Diabate’s fiercely-talented fifteen-year-old son and magnetized an afternoon-long music session in the tree-shaded courtyard.
We went to renowned kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate’s house to pay our respects and he invited me to play that evening at his music haunt the Hogon. The show began at midnight, Toumani arrived after one and I joined his Symmetric Orchestra around two, playing well into the wee hours. It thoroughly rocked my world and I’d venture to say this is one of the most powerful bands in the world. Walk to (or click on) your favorite record store to buy their newly released album on Nonesuch: Boulevard of Independence. Incredible!
Spent the following day with Mama Sissoko, a legendary musician here who plays the ngoni ba, a large and dark-sounding brother to the ngoni. He was a joy to work with: wide smiles, eyes on fire and so so sweet. Evening found us at the annual Paris/Bamako Festival at the Institute for the Blind. Twelve hours of music including sets by Cheick Tidane Seck, Mamani Keita and of course the legendary Amadou and Miriam. An international crowd, fine street food, the dustiest air I’ve ever breathed and more dancing than your feet could know.
Having become entranced by the ngoni (and set on meeting ever player in town), we travelled in an early morning taxi to Lafiabougou to visit Adama Tounkara, Djelimady’s younger brother and first call ngonist. Adama is steeped in the traditional griot music and generously taught me one tune after another. The pedagogy here is as challenging as it is enlivening. People just start playing these rhythmically mysterious little melodies and just when you catch on, they throw in a variation, a countermelody, a blur of 32nd notes. It’s all done in time, with no chance to pause, practice or question. The music is alive!
More work at the INA this week and a series of sessions with a young maverick ngoni player named Abdoulaye Kone. Hope all’s well in your corner of the world!