Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Africa Calling

I am chilling to Oumou Sangaré, who I am going to see in concert on Saturday night in Glasgow, as part of the Celtic Connections winter festival. I have loved Sangaré for so long - the richness and warmth in her voice. I love the tender wisdom in her slow songs and the groovy bliss of upbeat songs like Yala.

What is it about Mali? It seems to produce an endless cascade of great musical talent, often overshadowing the rest of the continent. Toumani Diabate, Salif Keita, Rokia Traoré, and of course the late king of the desert blues, Ali Farka Touré. And have you heard Amadou & Mariam’s Welcome to Mali? Mmmmm….bluesdancejazzpop hybrid…

I love the sound of the kora, which is pervasive throughout much of the music from Mali. There is a short clip of Diabate (the most famous kora player around) giving a quick demo. He starts to improvise and those fragile notes just seem to erupt from his fingers, which hardly seem to be moving.

I found a quote on t’internet from Rokia Traoré (whose new album Tchamantche is so very sensual and dreamy), which makes me wonder whether humanity was born (and is reborn, again and again) from a complex mixture of landscape and art.

‘All we have here is a bit of gold, the Niger river and our music. The Sahara is advancing all the time, so all we will have left is our rich and varied culture.’

Nif and I are staring to think about our Africa trip. The one we have be “planning” since we first travelled around Europe together more than 10 years ago. At the moment the big Africa adventure is pencilled in for 2011. Next year has too many family obligations, what with my mom turning 60 and several other important milestone dates.

So yes, 2011 it is. It may seem ridiculous to start thinking about it now, but lately I just feel like I need something to look forward to (work is hard. I feel directionless and sad most of the time). Besides, it will be expensive and also we don’t currently know where in Africa we want to go. For me, despite it being known as one of the most beautiful places on earth, and despite the lure of the traditional singing style (for example, from the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo), so much of the popular South African music I have heard is loaded with bubblegum keyboards and brass and I just can’t get into it.

I love the music of West Africa, especially Mali (and Senegal - can’t forget Youssou N’Dour) but West Africa is also known for a specific style of drumming. Check out the gorgeous confidence on this four-year-old as he rules the djembe. Also, did you know Ghana is the location of the Academy of African Music and Art? And that you can take drumming lessons there? Apparently for cheap? Eeek!

But then look towards East Africa, which has Kenya, not only the location of the Masai Mara Wildlife Reserve, but also home to one of the most entrancing instruments in the world - the eight-stringed lyre known as the nyatiti. Take a listen to Ayub Ogada’s Kothbiro, which featured in the film The Constant Gardener.

That leaves North Africa, with is definitely on my list, not only for the music but for the food. Oh, the incredible food of Morocco - tagine and sweet dates and almonds and honey and mint tea. I have long since yearned to visit the markets of Marrakesh and see the mountains of spices and make myself dizzy just by inhaling all the mixtures of scent.

If we aim for a five-week trip we should be able to manage one long haul to either West or East Africa, and a shorter jaunt to North Africa. So for the next two years I have a perfect excuse to lose myself in guidebooks and recipes, absorbing everything I can about West and East Africa, under the guise that all of it will bring me closer to a decision.

To end, I just realized that Saturday’s concert also features Toumani Diabate and Basse Koukouyate. I think I’m going to faint.


Dale said...

Isn't it mysterious? The music of Mali. It's like poetry in Elizabethan England: you can come up with reasons but nothing that's seriously commensurate with the intensity and beauty of the flowering.

Jacqui said...

Sold! Can I come? :-)

Purest Green said...

Dale: I also often feel that way about curry. You may think I am joking, but my palate is genuinely swooning at the thought.

J: I'm afraid Nif and I have long been set in (flesh-coloured) stone for the Africa trip. But I do think it would be great fun if you and I could do a weekend or overnight away somewhere. Perhaps in the autumn? Quick jaunt? What say you, my favourite fruit bat?

norah said...

S, what a great trip. The anticipation is another joy altogether. I've always wanted to go to Morocco and Algeria.
I'm sorry you are not happy at work.
I hope it gets better!

C.S. Perry said...

My ex-wife/girlfriend/mother-of-my-son visited Liberia a few years ago and she keeps talking of returning. But she still admitted that some parts of the trip were most unpleasant. Mostly the part about how she got malaria. She also mentioned all of the dreadful civil wars and the irony of a country that had modern buildings, indoor plumbing and light fixtures everywhere when none of it worked due to a lack of electric power; which was re-directed, by the latest despotic overlord, to run straight to Monrovia and nowhere else.
But that is, after all, only one country and Liberia has a long history of being war-torn and in a constant state of danger-at-every-turn.
But she still wants to go back.
I guess the call of that mysterious culture is powerful.
Just be sure to get all your shots before you go

Cat said...

Knowing as much as I do about the places you speak of (which is absolutely nothing), I feel like I've been there and back just by reading your words.

Jacqui said...

:-) Don't worry, I wasn't really planning to smuggle myself into your suitcase :-) I know that you and Niff will make it happen in 2011 and when you do it will be amazing; everything that you anticipated and so much more - my goodness, imagine your blogs when you get back!

Re: the overnight jaunt in autumn, that would be wonderful and I am definitely up for it - lets chat about it when we next meet.

Purest Green said...

N: Thanks. I look forward to buying you a wall hanging. Work would be better if there was even one element of creativity I could relate to. Nevermind.

C.S.: Shots - check. "ex-wife/girlfriend/mother-of-my-son" - you life is far more interesting than mine will ever be. Unless you count my (still legally) husband living in estonia with his girlfriend, her children, and a wolfhound named Rasmus.

Cat: You visited me! This is even better than meeting Princess Anne. And I bet you take your gloves off to shake hands with people.

J: Yippee!