Rail Bands and Super Motels
March 20, 2003 12:44 PM   Subscribe

A history of Malian pop music. Confused by the interlocking names and associations of the stars of West African music? This lively account by Lisa Denenmark should help (and a follow-up is promised). Via the indispensible Afropop Worldwide.
posted by languagehat (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
talk about timely. i had just been talking to my roommate last night about how i've fallen hard for malian music. he asked for examples and i couldn't show him anything because all my cds had been loaned out. thanks for the resource, i'll be sure to relay this.
posted by oog at 1:58 PM on March 20, 2003

Nice post languagehat! I am not all that familiar with Mali music, so this is great...as you might expect, I am an aficionado of juju music having seen King Sunny Ade three times and Commander Ebeneezer Obey twice. (I would drive miles out of my way - perhaps even states - to see King Sunny again.)
I generally find that it is almost always worthwhile to catch virtually any touring African band - don't think I've ever seen a bad show yet. So thanks for the Malian education!
posted by madamjujujive at 2:01 PM on March 20, 2003

Nice. :)

(I've been following King Sunny Ade since the late 80's. So cool).
posted by plep at 2:11 PM on March 20, 2003

inimbara, language hat....

(now let's see if you know how to answer....crazed linguist games of the apocalypse...)

posted by zaelic at 2:56 PM on March 20, 2003

O beng dzhanel les!
Damn you, Zaelic, you've stumped the language hat. So tell me what it means already (and what language—it ain't Zulu or Swahili or any West African language I'm familiar with); you don't want me to face the apocalypse with this tormenting me...

oog: Make sure your roommate hears Salif Keita's Moffou, my latest Malian purchase; it's amazing.
posted by languagehat at 3:53 PM on March 20, 2003

It is Maninkakan, or gambian Mandingo, for thank you. You say the person's name afterwords to complete the sentence. Avka me gindlam ke tu dzanelas kado, mo! (Rrromanes: but I though you knew that, bro!)
posted by zaelic at 4:01 PM on March 20, 2003

"Sugbon mo ti ro ti wo moo"

(Yoruba... "I thought you knew that, bro...)
posted by zaelic at 4:31 PM on March 20, 2003

I love West African music, thanks for the informative post!

I've been listening to Issa Bagayogo's Timbuktu over the past few months. Amazing. Also fond of Oumou Sangare and Salif Keita.
posted by groundhog at 5:45 PM on March 20, 2003

Not mentioned in the article, but I was hella impressed with Baboucar Traore when I saw him at the Calgary Folk Festival a couple years back. Soulful, chilled guitar licks, a voice as deep, ancient and timeless as an old growth forest, and a percussionist laying down deep, subtle grooves on nothing more than an amplified gourd. Excellent, excellent stuff, although probably worlds away from the uptempo sound I associate with African pop--probably closer to the griot tradition, or something. Regardless, it sounds good in the July sun with a head full of sangria & Big Rock...
posted by arto at 1:51 AM on March 21, 2003

My favourite African singer has to be Cesare Evoria. She's a bare-footed singer with a captivating voice. Thankfully, much smoking & drinking have not affected her vocal power.
posted by taratan at 3:49 AM on March 21, 2003

That's pretty comprehensive stuff, languagehat, thanks.
King Sunny Ade is in some college-comedy/coming of age film as the band who save the party, points to anyone who can name it.
Damon Albarn has been buzzing around Mali recently, mostly worth listening to. You can hear some of this type of music on Radio 3 (online).
madam, have you experienced the oneness of juju?
The rich seam of old Afro-whatever music is being mined intensively now (as seen on my previous MefiSwap CD). African pop-music today is almost as pathetic as that in US/Europe, from what I have heard.
posted by asok at 3:58 AM on March 21, 2003

Sorry to derail this thread even farther towards juju, but my favorite musician is I.K. Dairo, M.B.E. one of the fathers of modern juju. I was lucky enough to study with him before he died, when he taught at the University of Washington.

Sadly, juju music in Nigeria is dying, with Sunny being the last serious performer. Once he dies, I'm afraid that the genre will die with him. Even Obey has quit juju and is now singing gospel music.

However, that does not mean that all current pop music in Africa is pathetic. On the Nigerian tip, I advise Afro-beat fans to check out Lagbaja!. And if you're courageous enough, you might try a visit to Motherlan', his nightclub in Lagos where one never tires of dancing and singing along and just generally having a good time.

zaelic -- are you sure about that Yoruba? I think it would be "mo ti ro ti o mo o" -- I thought that you knew. And the "bro" is understood, although if you wanted to say it you might say "ore mi" (my friend), or even just "bro." There is no Yoruba word for brother.
posted by vitpil at 7:38 AM on March 21, 2003

beeni, vitpil, mo juba e... it would moo if I could get the tone markers on this Hungarian keyboard. I used to know Obey very well (his sons lived in Boston) and also worked with Sunny on promos back in the 80s and made a Decca LP with Demola Adepoju, his pedal steel player.

The movie referred to is none other than Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Sunny's entire band was flown out for a scene in which Matthew Broderick gets King Sunny to play for the high school dance. Alas, it all wound up on the cutting room floor.

I was somewhat involved in this project, which was making a condom advert into a pop hit: (roughly translated...)
Gold circle, Confidence tablets,
l'a fife t'o s'omo bibi
l'a fi sere rere

Gold Circle Condoms, Confidence tablets,
who makes love to have children
makes love to enjoy as well

Incidentally, if you can study Yoruba at Boston University with Prof. Wande Abimbola. It's kind of like studying latin with the Pope.
posted by zaelic at 9:47 AM on March 21, 2003

oops, bad link. I meant this project.
posted by zaelic at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2003

Wow, discussions of West African music and arguments about how to say things in Yoruba—I'm glad I started this thread! (And Zaelic, I'd love to get to study with the Awise Awo Ni Agbaye.)

arto, I'll definitely check out Boubacar, thanks for the tip! (Incidentally, note the spelling of his name; it's the West African version of Arabic "Abu Bakr," the name of the first caliph and hence a popular name in the Islamic world.)
posted by languagehat at 3:37 PM on March 21, 2003

Oddly enough, possibly the best person to study Yoruba with is Karen Barber who also taught at the University of Ife with Abimbola. Even though she is an oyinbo she is generally acknowledged to be an expert on the Yoruba language, even ijinle Yoruba or "deep" Yoruba. Her book on oriki praise poetry is an outstanding study of an African language genre. And her textbook for beginning Yoruba was even used by my language teacher in Nigeria.

Back to the topic (sort of), there is also an excellent book on juju by Christopher Waterman. There are also great books about Fela (I'm in the middle of this one right now), chimurenga from Zimbabwe, isicathamiya from South Africa ( ie. Ladysmith Black Mambazo), and as a general reference, John Collins' book on West African pop. And so many more, but those are the ones that first come to mind.
posted by vitpil at 4:57 PM on March 21, 2003

Thanks for the Karin Barber info, vitpil; I'd love to pick up a little Yoruba, and since it's highly unlikely I'll actually take a university course, it's good to know about her books.

By the way, arto, they've made a movie about Boubacar (or Kar Kar, as he's called).
posted by languagehat at 6:00 PM on March 21, 2003

Here in Europe I have always considered the popularity of "World Music" to be simplified to "funky music with lyrics nobody understands so you can talk over it in a pub." If you really this music, buy a book and learn some language. It don't hurt to learn Italian if you like opera, right? Love salsa, learn spanish! I have heard teenage white rockers in Paris speaking Wolof and Lingala!

Yeah, when Karin Barber made her graduation speech at the University of Ife in Yoruba, she completely blew everybody away.
posted by zaelic at 3:22 AM on March 22, 2003

Speaking of I.K. Dairo, does anyone have other favorite african button accordion sources? Once widespread in Congo, Nigeria, and Madagascar, it is falling out of use as button boxes get too expensive. Anybody for a quicktime au. clip of Idi Amin playing his button accordion?
posted by zaelic at 3:33 AM on March 22, 2003

Great thread, languagehat, this is a bookmark - sorry if I wandered a bit afield...but wonderful pointers from all - thanks! Special thanks to asok and vitpil, thanks for the new juju leads. Here's to more roots music threads!
posted by madamjujujive at 9:41 AM on March 22, 2003

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