Friday, November 20, 2009

Sonrai sound

En route to Timbouctou, I stop over in Goundam, a nondescript village of the Niger Delta. As I travel with guitar, a young man stops me and asks if he can have a look in the case. "Moi, aussi, je suis un artiste..." His name is Babah Dire (from the town Dire), a recorded artist with a few cassettes and a regular at Essakane, and I shoot the preceding video.

The style of guitar is that which is popularized by Ali Farka Toure; what can be called the Sonrai (or Songhai) folk.* Notably for it's blues sound, the ever present pentatonic scale, and strong punctuated notes (there are none of the tremolos or false notes as in Tamashek guitar). But it would be difficult to pigeonhole the music. Authenticity is for idealists.

Outside "Obama's" botique in Niafounke, a guitarist demonstrates the Sonrai folklore.

Souleyman - Ali Farka Cover

Souleyman - A song in the Bambara scale

The village of Tonka lies between Niafounke and Timbouctou, on the bank of the River Niger. It is an exceptionally green place, and exudes a certain friendliness which maybe has something to do with lack of tourism. I spend a few days with a group called Horostar de Tonka, three chauffeurs who when they're not crisscrossing Northern Mali, retreat to the edge of town and play guitar until the late dark hours (there is no electricity in Tonka, a missed blessing?).

Horostar de Tonka - Chaud!

Alkibar Gignor of Niafounke (previously here) produces a funky interpretation of Sonrai guitar. The following tracks are from a night rehearsal at the Ali Farka Hotel - including lots of dancing, which the microphone may have failed to capture. Imagination required.

Alkibar Gignor 1

Alkibar Gignor 2

Alkibar Gignor 3

* In local usage, Sonrai refers to the language/culture in Timbouctou and its environs, Songhai for Gao.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The end of the world...

I've come to Timbouctou to find a Tamashek guitarist named "Aba". He is from Gargando, and has left music and joined the military. I don't find him. However, I do meet with Mohamed Ag Abothy (or Mohamed "Bidega") who plays the bidega, a semispherical wood instrument with attached pieces of steel. Mohamed claims this is a Tamashek instrument (his father made it, his father before him, etc.), but the sound is similar to that found further south - perhaps influenced by the Mande sound?

Bidega 1

Bocar Tandina is a guitarist who plays in the traditional "Sori" style (think Ali Farka Toure). Along with Mohammad (and a percussionist), they make up the group Fafadoby.

Bocar on guitar

Lastly, a street field recording, walking through the old center of Timbouctou (crying children, an agitated drum session, music drifting from a radio...and motorbikes!

Old town

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Legacy of Toure

The town of Niafounke is alongside the Niger River in Northern Mali. It is notably famous for being the birthplace of Ali Farka Toure, and the tradition of music continues here. The town itself is mostly Songhai (or Sonrai), and the music that we associate with the North, the drumming guitar bass and double octave, the Malian "blues" as it may be - are mostly a variation of the Songhai sound. Whether or not the origin is here, or, as some claim, in the Soninke region of Kayes, the sound is distinct and recognizable.

Alkibar Gignor is a band composed of family and apprentices of Afel Bocoum (another grand guitarist hailing from Niafounke). I'm not in the habit of taking videos, but below is a recording of the rehearsal, recorded at Toure's family hotel.

Ali Farka Homage

Sahl with Ndarka

Lastly, some recordings of children songs and games. In a typically twist of fate, I was surrounded by thirty or so children who without any prompting, jumped into an exhibition of song. Most of the songs are accompanied by dance and great call and response (see "coonicami"). As far as I can attest, all the songs are in Sonrai - I wish I had more to say, but I'll let them speak for themselves.

Sori Girl

Sori Kids Dance


update: the above song is actually in Bambara. the recorded verses go something like this - "a man is a lion, if his woman tries to be a lion, he'll smack her. when a man talks to his woman, she needs to respond, or he'll smack her."

Another Song


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