Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba led by Mali’s famed ngoni player, an instrument he has been playing since the age of 12 and one that is believed to be the ancestor of the American banjo, is back with a new album Jama Ko. You can get a taster of the first single also titled Jama ko below.
Jama ko translates as ‘a big gathering of people’. The song reflects on the crisis that currently inflicts the north of Mali. Political tensions in the area have had their profile raised by many Touareg musicians over the years such as Tinariwen who returned from refuge to Mali in the 1990’s following a cease-fire.
In January 2012 an insurgency began, led by the largely Touareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. However, plans to make Azawad into an independent sovereign state ended when on 27 June, Al-Qaeda linked rebel groups turned on them. Strict laws are now in force in the area (sharia) and Touareg music is outlawed. It is at times like this that musicians around the world become the voice of their people in an effort to raise awareness of the worsening situation in Mali. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba will be touring as part of the Sahara Soul Tour with Tamikrest and Sidi Touré which pays tribute to Mali’s wealth of cultural and musical traditions and the power of music to unify people (details and ticket links below).
“Jama ko, c’est pour tout le monde”, says Bassekou Kouyate, the celebrated ngoni player, explaining the title of his third album, “There are over 90% Muslims in Mali, but our form of Islam here has nothing to do with a radical form of Sharia: that is not our culture. We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali.”
The recording of Jama ko took place in March 2012 in Mali’s capital Bamako. It was recorded with an entirely new line-up including Bassekou’s two sons Madou and Moustafa Kouyate, ngoni ace Abou Sissoko and a number of other young talented musicians from Bamako. It became political by accident. In the afternoon of the first day in the studio the military overthrew the president Amadou Toumani Toure (ATT). It was a shock for Bassekou as the former president was a great supporter of his music. Somewhere between power cuts, fuel shortages and the uncertainty of daily curfews the recording went on. Meanwhile the situation in the north of Mali was getting worse and worse by the day. In the studio a musical answer started taking shape: Instead of keeping quiet Bassekou plugged in his wah wah pedal, cranked up his amp and let loose: Ne me fatigue pas: don’t wear me out. You can hear the heartbeat of Malian music pulsing in this music.
Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Hotel 2 Tango) recorded the album in Mali and ended up mixing and co-producing most of it back home in Montreal. Andrew Barr (Barr Brothers) and Max Weissenfeldt (Poets of Rhythm) added drums. Mocky Salole (Feist, Jamie Lidell) contributed to the production and played organ and drums.
with Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba, Tamikrest and Sidi Touré