Tag Archives: Segou

Festival Stories

5 Feb

Segou third day, we float up the Niger to the Mangala Camara stage. The opening act starts with regional Bobo music, traditional music from western Mali, where belafon (similar to xylophone) and tam tam drum (gourd with skin) fill the air. I sit next to Abdoulaye, a Malian who works for the festival, and I ask him the meaning of the songs. The first one, he says, is about fishing. I begin to see how the dancers emulate the movements of fishermen, and the dance starts to have more clarity. The men strum on a long drum called a Bongolo and use sticks and hands to drum out the sound. They play their drums with a kind of solemn concentration- very different from the usual enthusiasm of a conga player. Then a beautifully elegant woman called Mama Djoulo enters the stage, “she is not a griot, but an artist.” Abdoulaye says. He informs me that griots are passed down through family lineage and that they sing for money, as opposed to artists who sing for the love of the art. Before only griots were allowed to sing, but now artists are accepted and encounter hardly any resistance. Mama Djoulo sings the “real” story of Issa, a barren woman who wanted a child. She tries for 10 years, but nothing changes, then she seeks the help of a marabout and delivers a child. Next Babenya the talented group from Burkina Faso enter the stage. They are promising young talent with great energy. Give them another few years and they will be West Africas next sensation. They sing of the joy of being invited to the festival, and of cause and effect. Next comes Adama Yolomba with his painted kamel n’goni, red green and yellow. He mixes electric guitar and traditional instruments. His rebellious lyrics advise people to open their eyes or else they will encounter problems, then about guruma, which means stinginess, and how it destroys relationships and communities. Finally he sings about the beauty of Mali, the crowd moves into the arena and groove on the sand. The night sets in, and we move to the main stage to see the famous Toumani Djabate. His calm demeanor camouflages his actual control over the show, similar to an orchestra conductor, he brings out the best of his musicians. The music is fantastic, the drumming is excellent, and the kora sounds are sharp and harmonizing. There is something divine and elevating about his music. Sad to see him go, Ismael Lu has a hard act to follow. His music is mellow, but maybe a little too soft for this evening. He plays his famous song “Africa” and the crowd responds. Finally the Madame Oumou Sangare enters and the excitement explodes. She is accompanied by two graceful dancers, who keep it lively. I wish Abdoulaye were here to explain what she sings, but am content with just hearing her soothing voice. The crowds dance, front row stands knee deep in the Niger river,- it is one big party.

Segou Festival

5 Feb

This is the second night in Segou. The festivals red and yellow lights reflect rainbow like ribbons on the Niger’s surface, as the wind blows the amazing voice of Kasse Mady Diabate, from one bank to another. He is performing on his own after stepping out of the shadow of Toumani Diabate. In a land where singers are passed down through family lineage, it is refreshing to know talent is recognized and singers can move up in the world. Next the gifted Ms. Bako Dagnon, sings her traditional Malian tunes. Then the local musician Bassekou Kouyate (won the BBC 2008 world music award) enthralls with an outstanding performance of the ngroni; accompanied by three other ngroni musicians the combining sound is enchanting. Then the Guinean Diva, Sayon Camara captivates with her powerful melodious voice. Her rhythmic sounds and back up dancers entertain and add to her stage charisma. The tunes range from Guinean griot, to salsa combinations, spiced up with the legendary Guinean djembe. Her bewitching voice reaches across the stands and to the hearts – the crowd loves her and respond with a wave of lively dancing. The night comes to a close as the lights dim off the Niger shore. As I exit, I bump into a Danish music journalist who wants to invite Ms. Camera to a festival in Denmark. There is hope. Lights dim – lights glow, this is the way at festivals.

Festival Sur Le Niger – Segou

4 Feb

Tonight the Malian skies are lit up with more than the stars, this evening on the banks of the Niger, West Africa’s most talented converge to illuminate the night. As the sun sets over the wind blown waters, the Super Biton of Segou open the celebration to a very enthusiastic crowd. They begin with a tropical salsa rhythm and then move to more traditional Malian tunes. (The cultural ties between Cubans and Malians goes far back). Then Neba Solo fills the air with the sounds of the Belafon, and Djembe, accompanied by two energetic male dancers who combine African, salsa, hip hop and break dancing steps, all in one. The dancers stir the crowd, as spectators scream and rise to their feet clapping in joy. As the evening descends into the deep night the Moroccan Gnawas strum their hypnotic rhythms. The sound of the castanets is drowned by the intense drumming, the men move back and forth, and the dance begins to looses its synchronicity as they step into a collective trance. Then the Tuareg strum out the sounds of the desert with their electric guitars; dancers bodies move in slow spiraling elegant motions, arms and hands floating in a wave-like form. Finally Vieux Farka mesmerizes with the desert blues made famous by his father. His sound are promising and set the tone for the days to follow.

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