Legendary band that have been playing in Kenya and all around Africa for 40 years, FINALLY make it across the pond, and I get to chat to them about their first festival in Europe / England, audiences around the world and their style of playing and music making.
Ethio-jazz queen is stepping out of the Mulatu Astake spotlight for ethio-jazz and is taking the name for herself, I talk to her about how she keeps her music contemporary and what makes musicians important in society.
Amadou and Mariam need near to no introduction: they have been chart topping the west African music scene for decades together. I was honoured to catch them and chat to them about their music making, community and music in Mali, and plans for the future.
Tal National come from all over North Africa, and they bring their fusion music to audiences the world over. I spoke to them about the origins of their style and playing in England.
@ WOMAD Festival 2017
Wassoulou / Mali / Feminism / Social Commentary
Having recorded her first album ‘Moussolou’ in 1989 in Bamako Mali, Oumou Sangare has made the music of her homeland: the Wassoulou region in Mali one of the signature sounds to make it globally from West Africa. As well as this, Oumou has globalised the local sound of the Kamale Ngoni.
Having been singing since a young child, and catching the attention of many, including African blues maestro Ali Farka Touré, as a voice of her generation. Oumou even went on tour at the age of 16 with the percussion group Djoliba, and by the age of 21 Oumou was already a star.
Aside being the ambassador for Wassoulou, Oumou has alway used her voice, local and globally for social comment. Specifically commenting on topics such as women status in society, child marriage and genital mutilation. Her first album was an unprecedented hit in West Africa with over 200,000 copies sold locally, consequently in the coming years, Oumou played at every major venue in the world, and toured with global legends.
Using her voice for women across the world, Oumou was named ambassador of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation - fighting hunger across the world), furthermore she won the UNESCO (promotion of peace and security) prize in 2001 for her work speaking out on social issues.
Of course in the proceeded eight studio albums, Grammy nominations, amongst many other awards have showered Oumou, and she is celebrating her latest album release ‘Mogoya’ (2017) by playing a few gigs around the world.
I find myself here at WOMAD Festival 2017 about to talk to Oumou Sangare before her big show on the main stage. As I wait with her for our translator I am taken aback by her sheer presence. An energy emanated from Oumou has an intensely powerful, righteous woman. A little humbled, I began….
Sophie Darling (SD) : Firstly, it is such an honour to be sitting here opposite you. I am in love with your music, and also with your activism.
You’re an advocate for women rights, I wanted to talk about the difficulties of your strife? Was being an advocate for women rights and such a conscious decision you made to use your voice to make these political opinions, or was it something that came naturally? Something you felt you had to do?
Omou Sangare (OS) : Very difficult, very. It was a conscious decision, I didn’t have an easy childhood, my mother was sick a lot, I felt I needed to fight to make her happy, to allow her to be happy, I wanted to fight for the injustice, against the injustice of being so sad all of that time
SD:I am aware that one of your albums is entitled ‘Ten Kola Nuts’ which is the going currency for a Malian wife, can you tell us about that concept? Why did you want to talk about it?
OS: It’s like a marriage package, It’s like an engagement, it’s an asking. There’ a lot of different stages in marriage, the engagement stage, then you have the devot-age stage. Basically I wanted to talk and use it as a symbol to talk about marriage, because for me that’s what deprives women of her rights, ok marriage can go well and it’s good for her, but if it goes badly, then the woman will be deprived of her life, she might become a slave, and she doesn’t want that to happen, it’s a symbol… it’s symbolic.
SD: At what age did you start to play with the music Are your family musical? Where you encouraged to play music?
OS: My mother, my mother *laughs* didn’t want me to leave school to follow music, but she did want me to sing, because my own mother was a great singer, my grandmother was a musical star as well, and so my mother encouraged me, as my mum said she would hear her mothers voice in me, but she didn’t want me just to be a singer, she wanted me to follow my studies as well as be a singer.
SD: Has your mother managed to see you perform at all?
OS: Now yes *laughs* oh. No no no, go to school Oumor, she waited until I was a big girl, she waited until I was professional, yes.
SD: I know that in the early days, Nick Gold the record producer of World Circuits took an interest in you after he was handed a tape of your recordings. How did you find things changed for you? Were the social barriers surrounding gender and music easy for you to manoeuvre? Were difficulties enhanced?
OM: No, the story about how he heard the music was that Ali Farke Touré was a huge huge fan of mine . So when the first record came out, he was screaming my name everywhere, and telling everyone about it, and playing the music, this is when Nick heard it for the first time, and then he went to Bamako and he said he heard it everywhere everywhere, he said oh I love that women voice, I would like to meet her.
SD: Wassoulou music, I was wondering if we could ask a little about that, as I don’t know much about it.
OS: So Wassoulou is the music for dancing, for rejoicing, for relaxing, but it always carries a message
SD: Do you have any pre/post gig rituals for good luck?
OS:*laughs* Oh yeah, sometimes, I pour a small amount of water on the ground, sometimes I might forget, but always I try to do it, for the ancestors, for my grandmother.
SD: Were you taught to sing, or where you born this way?
OS: I was born with it
I left feeling charged up by Oumous very presence. I joined the huge crowd awaiting by the main stage to watch the Songbird of Wassoulou take to the stage. Loved by an adoring audience, Oumour Sangare exploded the stage with her powerful voice that emanated across the festival. Playing old and new tunes, Oumou focused mainly on her album. With dedications to women, wives and mothers, the reaction was of indulgence and love as the audience danced and sung throughout the entire performance.
I was honoured to have spoken to Oumou Sangare, and can confirm that the new album is fabulous.
King Ayisoba, recognisable by an incredibly unique voice, and of course the accompaniment of the sacred kologo. King Aysioba was born in a tiny village in Ghana where he played the kologo everywhere he went. At the right time, he took his music to the neighbouring villages, and eventually to the city. Here he started to collaborate with Hi-life musicians, and produced his first tape/cd in 2006 - “Modern Ghanians” - of which ‘I want to se you my father’ became a hit, earning Ayisoba the position of popularising the kologo, and gained him the title of ‘King’ at the Ghana Music Awards Festival as part of Ghanas 50th anniversary celebrations.
Since Ayidoba, deemed King of the music in Ghana, has continued to take his traditional musics to global audiences the world over, and has collaborated with a number of legendary names, including Lee Scratch Perry on ‘1000 Must Die’.
King Ayisoba mixes his traditional styles, the use of the kologo: a two stringed lute used primarily and almost exclusively in areas of West Africa. As well as this the band uses various other traditional instruments, such as for percussion a calabash used like a football, with shakers inside, and is played by throwing rhythmically from hand to hand. A variety of native drums such as the guluku drums and the dundun drums. As well as these sounds, overall King Ayisoba often combines with electronic sounds.
I felt honoured to talk to King Asyioba as firstly a king of music, also the populariser of the sacred kologo music to a global audience, and so authentic in his music, the sounds of King Ayisoba and his band really transport you to West Africa… Ghana. His music also speaks without borders to everyone local to his village, local to Ghana and thus West Africa.
BBC3 Charlie Gillet Stage @ WOMAD
I had the opportunity to watch King Aysiobas set before talking to the band, they came out in amazing authentic batakari tunics, looking incredible in their West African garments, with their intriguing and magical instruments.
They proceeded to entice an entire audience with their melodic strumming and percussions. King Aysiboa’s unique voice echoing over the crowds as we danced with the band for a beautiful transformative hour.
As they finished playing, I made my way round the back to talk to the band a little…
Members: King Aysioba, Abaadongo Adontanga, Ayuune Sulley, Gemeka Akligilalatanda, Ayamga Francis
Sophie Darling (SD): Hello I loved the performance, I would love to know a bit more about your instruments, What is this?
King Ayisoba (KA) : It is very difficult to teach, This is the kologo..It is tuned to the voice
SD: How did you start to play the kologo, because it is after all strongly connected to your sound, as the populariser of the kologo globally?
KA: My grandfather used to play , and when he passed away, I was little, I never saw my grandfather before he passed away, but he say I need to play this kologo from my grandfather. And so when he passed, he said wheres this babies father, so they called my father to come, then they told my father that the child will play like my grandfather said, if you make a small kologo for me, so my father made a small kologo for me to play for four years, five years, six, years and I play with at parties, at the market, everywhere.
SD:You are from Northern Ghana,
KA: Yes from northern Ghana,
SD: Do you play any other instruments?
KA: I don’t want to play any instrument apart from the kologo, because if you play many instruments, you can't be professional for one, you get no where, but if you have one, you are very strong.
SD: What's the name of this drum
KA: Lumba - They call me lindisunga some people all these talking drums dumdum
SD: How long have you been playing in this set up?
KA: We started this together a long time ago, but maybe we come back together after I come out of profession with my father. After that, I knew that if you move to our own music you have to get back, so we start the band together in 2004/5
SD: 1000 can die, you wrote it with Lee Perry… What’s he like in person? Is he as crazy as a working partner?
KA: I didn’t know who he was at first, I wonder, yeah, I don’t know him well and we meet him, a year ago through our manager we meet him.
We meet him, how it is here, we had the same music, and we they told me he is a legend, they say, really important, he produced our first album. So they took my watch to give to the man, he like this, he like our record, and then they come back and say he want to work with us, we sit down and composed the song, and we also give the beat, and we have to give him the bat to listen to over there, and he also mixed the beats too we have to give the reggae man. So we give the reggae man, and he say wahh, and he tried to add some voice, and professionality. Was great.
SD: Who do you like to listen to musically?
KA: For me I like a lot, I like good music I like highlife, I like reggae, I guess I love it, I like all good music and all good singers, and some music I like it.
SD: Tell me about your fan base?
KA: Ayyyy we are the number star in Ghana, *laughs* is very good, very nice, everybody listen, there are lots of different styles, they are all different, but they all listen.
SD: Genre is hiplife, is this a creation? A mixture of highlife, dancehall and hip-hop?
KA: That is wrong, those are styles of music from Ghana but what we play is kologo music, hiplife is the Ghanian equivalent of rap music, high life is older music from 60’s and 70’s, they are playing a northern genre of kologo from the north, their region. And they have collaborated and played songs with hip-hop artists but my own style forever is kologo.
WOMAD FESTIVAL 2017 - Saturday 29th - Main Stage
Who is Bombino?
In the North of Africa the great Sahara Desert spans across Northern Mali, Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Morocco and plenty of North East Africa too. The Tuaregs are a nomadic people who have roamed the Sahara with their cattle since pre-colonial times.
In recent decades civil unrest has made life for the Tuaregs hard and has resulted in years of violent conflict.
However, the social and political unrest gave way for a new genre of music hailing from the exiled Tuaregs. Ibrahim Ag Albabib, band leader of Grammy award winning Tuareg musicians - Tinariwen, is accredited with creating ‘al-guitara’ music, so named for the addition of the electric guitar. They played the electric guitar in a blues style inspired by the likes of Malian desert mega star - Ali Farka Touré. Al guitara, or Saharan desert blues as it can be referred to by, mixed these virtuosic guitar solos with the traditional music fo the Tuareg cultures inspired by musical gatherings called ‘aggiwin’s. The songs are based around cyclical patterns and continuous characteristic grooving rhythms played on calabashes and clapping. All while with, predominantly male vocals in multiple harmonies.
This new platform of music that was mainly decimated throughout the desert for years on home made cassette tapes that musicians would record their songs onto. This helped spread the music of al’guitara, and the ideologies of the Tuareg activists.
Bombinos live album Agamgam released in 2010, is a good introduction to the life of the Tuaregs, opening the first track Ténéré opens with sounds from cattle. Considering the Tuaregs are a nomadic people of cattle, these sounds are idiosyncratic with the movement of nomads and their live stock. The second tune ‘Imuhar’ then opens with (I assume) is a Islamic citation, thus representing the religious ideologies of the Tuareg nomads of the desert.
Bombino was raised a Muslim, and therefore taught honour and dignity, themes that run throughout his al’guitara music. Since starting to play, and traveling the world with his music, Bombino has played at all and any worthy festival, a favourite at WOMAD’s, this year playing at Coachella, and many many more.
Furthermore Bombino now has three studio albums: Agadez, Nomad and Azel.
I personally have found myself rather immersed in Bombinos long melodic guitar riffs, infectious rhythms and soft grooving vocals for a number of years, and find myself ecstatic to finally see him play at WOMAD 2017 Festival where he will be headlining the main stage.
It was a beautiful moment to find out I would have the chance to talk to one of my musical heroes….Here’s what happened.
WOMAD Festival 2017
In a beautiful rush, I found myself being swept behind the Main Stage to the artist press area, awaiting outside the white tent labelled ‘Bombino’. Stood outside the tent keeping to themselves were two men in fine Tuareg attire. As a fan, I knew I was looking at Bombino.
I stood whilst a translator was being organised, after exchanging a smile and laugh I offered the gentleman a drink and they accepted. Without communication I enjoyed sharing a pleasant beverage with Bombino whilst we patiently waited for Bombinos English speaking bassist to be located.
After a few minutes we off inside the tent, all communications go. I directed my questions to Bombino whilst our friend relayed two and forth between us.
Bombino sat most humble and spoke with an almost silent soft voice. I was taken aback given the energy Bombino carries on stage to see that behind the shining lights and curtains stands an extremely humble, almost shy character, who speaks quietly, tends to not look up too much, and has an incredibly kind energy.
After making ourselves comfortable and getting to know each other a little, I began to ask some questions….
Sophie Darling (SD): For people who aren’t familiar with your music and know if it as the Tuareg desert blues, is this how you would describe your music through your eyes and ears?
Bombino (B): It’s universal music you know, it’s like the desert, the desert is big, it is open. But I am Tuareg and the bass is still Tuareg and then I mix with other colours and other things you know, so for me it’s universal music for everyone everywhere.
SD: I’d like to know how you first picked up the guitar?
B: I started to play guitar very young, this is why I was called Bombino, because I was a baby, and with a friend, a brother… in African everyone is your brother, we say brothers. So when I see my brothers play guitar, I come, I take a guitar and I try. And I take again and I try. So also I don’t have a professor, I am self taught, and then I develop my style.
SD: I read that you were inspired by Jimi Hendrix… my question to you is there a one particular song that resonates most with you?
B: *laughs* For me it is not just one song I love, I love them all. But this isn’t the point. The point is when I see Jimi Hendrix play his guitar, you see this connection between Jimi Hendrix and his guitar, you feel it, between him and HIS guitar, they are connected.
I am very very fond of this, this is what I want, this is what I try to be. This connection is very important to me, the connection between me and MY guitar.
SD: Where do you call home?
B: Niger. The Desert.
SD:Have you been looking forward to playing WOMAD Festival (2017)?
B: WOMAD is not the first time I have played here, but the first time it was so so special. This is my second time and it is still so special. I play a lot of big festivals like Coachella Festival and other big ones in the USA, but WOMAD will always be very very special. It is like the connections with the other artists and other musicians and the spirit here is different.
And then we play another WOMAD in New Zealand and Australia, WOMAD is always an extra special show. It is true, all the artists want to play WOMAD.
SD: Your songs are sung in Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg people, can you tell us a little bit about your people?
B: So Tamasheq is the language of the Tuareg people, and the Tuareg people they are in African in Niger, Algeria, Mali, Libya, Burkina Faso, so all across the desert, so it’s a large language, you can write it’s own scripture.
SD: Was there ever a temptation to sing a more universal language, such as French? As a lot of the Malian musicians do for example?
B: They are not the same, all the songs are written in Tamasheq because it is my mother language, the English people for example, they do not think in French, it would be, confusing? Why you think in French? So it is the same, I am Tuareg, and my mother language is Tamasheq, and so if I can sing in Tamasheq, it will be easier and it will reach a lot of people from home, from my community, so if I were to sing in English or French then a lot of people in my community would not understand, so it is an easy decision.
SD: So, in closing, do you have any pre or post gig rituals for good luck?
B: Oh no, we are not superstitious, before we go on the stage we do… *high fives each band member* Boom. That is all we need before and after the show *laughs*
SD: Will you be coming to England on tour?
B: Yes of corse!
SD:…and how about another album?… Please?
B: Of course.
Moments after we concluded our interview, with friendly hugs and goodbyes, I left Bombino to get ready for his big show, which he was due to stage in half an hour.
I left the artist area, and with great excitement ran around to the front fo the main stage and stood in the middle of an already heaving crowd, awaiting the humble quiet man I had just spoken too.
What happened next blew my mind, like the caterpillar blossoming into a stunning butterfly, this tranquil character who had just been so reserved exploded onto the stage in a flurry of unstoppable guitar riffs, like Hendrix on stage, Bombino played his guitar with such rock’n’roll muster I could barely believe it was the same man I had just spoken too.
The entire gig’s energy sky rocketed, with dancing, singing, even screaming from the audience, the whole performance was stunning. The musicality was genius. Watching Bombino play endless cyclical guitar riffs, whilst singing, dancing, and hyping was immense. Truly one fo the best guitarists I have ever seen, the whole ensemble worked to perfection. A friend I knew in th crowd hadn’t heard of Bombino before however found himself bewildered at the musical talent, and found himself somewhat addicted to the Sahara Desert guitarist.