Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Musical Discovery: The Music of Mali

The Putumayo collections of music are a wonderful way of discovering new music from parts of the world you have never thought of. I was introduced to them, interestingly, by my son back when he was 3 and 4 years old. When we visited California we would always visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And we would always stop at the gift shop and my son would consider whether he would spend his souvenir option there or somewhere else. More recently he has moved on to other sources of souvenirs (always interesting) but initially he was always interested in listening to the various samples of Putumayo CD collections and he would pick one for his souvenir.

During his excursions into the Putumauyo CD collection, the African selection, the Women of Africa Selection and the Mali selection each caught his attention, and I tip my hat to his choices because they all are amazing collections.

All three are fantastic...but today I want to highlight music from Mali. One artist from the Women of Africa collection I have highlighted before is Afia Mala, a Royal Princess of Togo and Benin.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mali is one of the more democratic nations in Africa. A co-worker of mine was surprised that Mali is where the famous city of Timbuktu is...a city I would love to visit someday even though I hear it has declined from its former glory. Timbuktu was once a rich, major trading site along the Niger River, connecting sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, where salt, gold, ivory and slaves were traded in huge amounts.

Mali cuisine seems mostly to be a mixture of North African dishes (like Couscous) and Senegalese dishes. It is very much the juncture between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, I don't think I will have much chance of trying some of the wonderful sounding dishes from Mali, short of cooking them myself (an option I may well attempt!) or visiting Mali itself (again, an option I would like to explore if I get the chance).

Now Mali is something of a backwater, and yet it manages to be one of the most democratic and forward looking nations in Africa. Though predominantly Muslim, it is also one of the few nations in Africa where homosexuality is not outright illegal. This does not mean that Mali is a paragon of civil liberties in a global context, but it does manage to be one of the more democratic nations despite its poverty. It has some dangers because of attempts of al-Qaeda related groups to establish themselves in the country, but so far Mali has done wonders at keeping such groups at bay. Mali may be one of the few Muslim nations of North Africa I would, as a Jew, feel fairly comfortable visiting.

But what strikes me is that when I listen to the Putumayo collection of music from Mali, I absolutely LOVE each and every song. There is not one song on that CD that I am even ambivalent about. It is one of my favorite CD's of all time. Generally I have no idea what they are singing about, but the sound of it is amazing.

Seemingly the most famous musician from Mali is Habib Koite...and here is a haunting, beautiful song from the Putumayo collection.

He also has a gorgeous song on the Putumayo Africa collection:

One of my favorites from the album is Moussa Diallo's Maninda:

Then there is Amassakoul 'N' Tenere by Tinariwen which strikes me as more generally "Musilm" in sound, if such a generalization is even close to valid, and slightly less uniquely Mali...but it is still super cool:

Here Kélétigui Diabaté's version of a traditional piece, Koulandian:

Habib Koite also performs this piece (not from the Putumayo collection), though I personally like Kélétigui Diabaté's version better:

This one is amazing (not from the Putumayo collection)...Gershwin's Summertime performed by two of Mali's top musical geniuses, Keletigui Diabate and Habib Koite:

I am blown away by that one!

Another haunting one, by Boubacar Tranore, is this one:

I urge my readers to explore the Putumayo collections. I don't connect with all of them, but they all are quality collections of amazing artists. The African ones in particular have greatly expanded my musical tastes, and the Mali collection is quite possibly my favorite. And it led me to look into the nation of Mali more than I might have. If I ever have the time and money, it is one of the nations I would love to visit, not least for the chance to visit Timbuktu!

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