World Tour 1st Stop: Mali

Listen along to the styles you’re reading about on our Spotify playlist! (Or on our SoundCloud, depending on song availability)

By Tarek Tiba

Every Monday at WCBN, a group of around 5 people sit in the lobby and listen to snippets of new albums that we’ve received in the last week. My first time sitting in as an intern, specifically a music review intern, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I sat down, Paul the music director here at WCBN walked out from his office with a bunch of CDs, sat down with a CD player at the table and just started going through albums, saying the name of the artist, playing maybe 20 seconds of a song and then moving on to the next one. At the end, we all pick and choose from a pile of albums that has accumulated on the ground. It is through this I was introduced to the band Tamikrest.

Tamikrest is a band originating from the northeastern region of Mali, specifically from the city of Kidal. The members of the band belong to the Tuareg ethnic group, who inhabit a large area of land in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Tuareg people have long faced many hardships, starting with French colonization in the late 19th century to famine in the later years of the 20th century, as well as revolutions and intrusion from outside terrorist groups. In the face of all of these struggles, many Tuareg people have turned to music to spread their message and make aware the difficulties that their people have to face. Ousmane Ag Mossa, one of the founding members of the band, took inspiration from another Tuareg group; Tinariwen. Ag Mossa has said that it was Tinariwen who blazed the path for other Tuareg musicians, and that it is the responsibility of the younger generations to follow along that path. To hear the blues driven sound of these musicians, listen to Erres Hin Atouan by Tamikrest or Imidiwan Win Sahara by Tinariwen.

Listening to this band for the first time, hearing the blues inspired guitar mixed with traditional rhythms and the language of the Tuareg, Tamashek, which Ag Mossa sings in, made me aware of a whole new world of music that I had previously not known of. It also gave me the idea for a musical world tour. An exploration of music from different countries around the world, to be compiled onto a playlist for others to enjoy, and what better place to start than Mali.

Mali is a country rich in history and culture, and the music of Mali represents a manifestation of the cross between traditions of the past and new trends of the present. Almost all the artists on the playlist showcase traditional Malian instruments, and some of them, such as Toumani Diabaté and Ballaké Sissoko, have gained worldwide recognition for their solo work. Both artists play the Kora, an instrument similar to the harp in nature. To hear the beauty of the Kora, played by true masters of the instrument, listen to Si Naani by Toumani Diabaté or Maimouna by Ballaké Sissoko. Malian percussion instruments are also heavily featured on many of the songs, such as the balafon, a type of African marimba, and the calabash, a hollowed-out gourd. Mali has also produced many talented guitarists, such as grammy award winning blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and Boubacar Traoré, who first gained fame in Mali shortly after the country’s independence from France in 1960, earning the nickname of the “Malian Elvis Presley.” To hear the magnificent guitar playing of two Malian greats, listen to Ruby by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté or Djonkana by Boubacar Traoré.

The playlist features many of the artists talked about above and some more. Most of the songs were found off of albums that were here at WCBN. This playlist should be seen as a glimpse into the music of Mali, and a stepping stone for further exploration, should you find something that piques your interest. Two versions can be found on our WCBN Spotify and Soundcloud accounts.