After many years, we’re proud to announce the Mdou Moctar USA tour! Mdou & the band will be starting off on the EU/UK, then headed across the USA, with shows on the West Coast, Midwest, East Coast, down to the South.
I first heard Mdou’s music in 2010, and finally met him in person two years later. During the first meeting we recorded his debut album Afelan. At the time, Sahel Sounds was a nascent label taking its first stumbling steps in a tumultuous and confusing music industry, so when Mdou asked “How can I tour in America?” I responded disparagingly: “We can work together, I can help your music to travel, but I have no idea how to make a tour happen, above all in the USA.”
At select screenings, we’ll be screening our film, the Purple Rain inspired Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai. But we also are talking about making a sequel of sorts, an ethnographic film from Mdou & the band as they cross America and explore what it means to tour in 2017. Maybe with a little bit of Spinal Tap thrown in. It is rock music, after all.
The new music video for Ami Yerewolo’s“A San Nièfai” takes Malian Hip Hop into a science fiction future. In the video, a trio of post apocalyptic survivors wander through the Malian countryside, stumbling on the destroyed and smoking ruin of the capital. Meanwhile, they are pursued by a vehicular gang with bandits piled into the back of trucks and screaming stunting motorcycles. The video alternates between Ami rapping in an underground mine shaft and a loose narrative that ends in a showdown between two warring factions. And of course, a dance sequence.
The stylistic choice for the video isn’t wholly surprising and is clearly inspired by the Hype Williams directed 2pac video for California Love and blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road (the former of course being a remake of the 1979 Mad Max, alas). Aside from being a colorful video with a plethora of special effects and tentative narrative structure, the video stands out particularly in the West African context. It is well likely that “A San Nièfai” is the first commercial science fiction production from Mali.
I spoke with Sidiki Goita, director of the video, and co-founder of Vortex Groups, a Bamako based special FX startup. Goita is an engineer by trade, but over the years he’s grown his company to a dozen members, all in their 20s. While working on 3D design, logos, and advertising, Vortex Groups supplements their work with music video production. It’s a lucrative avenue of the struggling Bamako music industry, particularly in contemporary Malian Hip Hop. As Internet enabled cellphones replace the old bluetooth networks of music trading, sites like RHHM and Bamada-City are gatekeepers of new media. Malian Hip Hop artists rely on music videos to advertise and promote their brands. Vortex’s approach varies from the other studio houses, Goita explains. “When Vortex Groups produces a video clip, we make it as though it was a feature length fiction. We write a script, assemble a technicians, make a storyboard…and after finishing all these stages we proceed to scouting the location.”
For what appears to be a large production with cast and costumes, the video for “A San Nièfai” was assembled in pure DIY aesthetic, relying on found materials and free locations. The costumes were salvaged from found materials, transforming motorcycle helmets into armor, calabash turned into shields, and large woven potato sacks for clothing. The video was shot 40 km outside of Bamako at an old quarry for laterite, the iron rich clay used for the quintessential red mud bricks seen across West Africa. Goita was given creative freedom from the artist to make something very different from the standard Bamako Hip Hop video: “The idea of the clip was to break the monotony and the uniformity of the current African videos that loop on the music TV channels, summed up with drone shots of a singer surrounded by a crowd of dancers and also scantily clad girls. The second goal was to shock viewers to the consequences of civil wars, by showing apocalyptic images of their city.”
Science fiction has always been a genre of speculation and warnings, projections that reflect on utopic and dystopic futures. While fantasy and horror have a place in oral tradition, science fiction doesn’t exist in Mali. Only now are the possibilities being explored as technology allows low budget experimentation to redesign reality through 3D animation, compositing, and green screen. So why isn’t there more science fiction? “The problem that persists is a conflict of generations,” Goita explains. “The old ones who have mastered the network of studio production are not ready to leave the beaten track. They are content with simple cinema without technical stakes – just simple stories of love and politics.”
Sidiki Goita says the ultimate goal with Vortex Groups is to produce feature films. Their music videos are calling cards, examples of what can be accomplished with a little investment. “In the West, the cinemas are exhausted, they only make remakes and films of superheroes,” Goita says. “Like our mining resources, our stories and legends are not even exploited to 5%…The younger generation does not have access to funding to produce high-quality films. Foreign partners should trust African youth to finance projects. With less than $20,000, we could would make an African version of Mad Max which could rival productions with 10 times the budget!”
Very excited to be part of two exciting programs in the coming weeks. I’m off to Europe, and will be joining Norient for their 2016 Musikfilm Festival in Bern, Switzerland – followed by a screening and panel discussion at CTM New Geographies in Berlin. Both festivals have incredible events planned at multiple towns and venues. It’s gonna get weird – stop by and say hello!
Jan 15 – AKOUNAK screening 20:30 – Norient Muskfilm Fest – Bern, CH Jan 17 – DJ Set 20:30 – Norient Muskfilm Fest – Bern, CH Feb 2 – Panel: Global Music 15:30 – How To Research Music Today – CTM – Berlin, DE Feb 3 – AKOUNAK film screening 16:00 – CTM – Berlin, DE
In the space between events, I’ll be dipping down to Niger, working on a new film about immigrant desert crossings and a mythical city in the Sahara, so expect a few updates from the road.
In June 2015, we traveled to a place that doesn’t exist.
The work was semi-ethnographic documentation of travel to a fictional Bamako. Over 10 days, photographer Maciek Pozoga and I meticulously documented the real and the unreal through photo and sound. The imagined capital evolved out of discussions with Bamakois: visual artists, science fiction scenarists, traditional griots, DIY filmmakers, and modern studio producers. At the forefront was perception of Mali and its capital – what it is, what it could have been, and what it will be. At the core was the idea of travel, that feeling of being in a strange land. On this journey we looked for clues of alternate pasts, hidden in architecture, dress, song, or deep in the dreams of possible futures.
The resulting exhibition, Uchronia: The Unequivocal Interpretation of Reality will feature photography from Maciek Pozoga, a photo book, edited by Pierre Hourquet, and vinyl record of field recordings documenting the journey – available during the exhibition (and later here at Sahel Sounds). The vinyl record, “Field Recordings from Alternate Realities” accompanies the photographs as soundscape to this unrealized world. The record draws on the experience of a number of musicians, including Mamelon, Luka Productions, and Super Onze – borne out of conversations and experimentation.
In studio with Luka Guindo, we listened and discussed mp3s of Craig Leon’s Nommos. Released in 1981, Nommos is a concept album based around the “Dogon creation myth” – a much referenced story that the Dogon tribe’s mythology was based around impossible astronomical knowledge, and that this knowledge must have come from the stars themselves. Leon composed the music New York after encountering Dogon art at the Brooklyn museum. Luka is Dogon, and I asked him about Sirius and the double star and the mysterious ancient aliens of his mythology. He had never heard of it. As ideas are filtered across cultures, they succumb to overwhelming cultural misinterpretations – coming from another place brings with it a penchant for the sensational and exotic. The questionable veracity of the myth, or even the historic veracity, is largely irrelevant, as this myth has become part of the West’s West African canon. It may well be reinvigorated as Bamakois discover Leon’s album.
Working with mythic objects is purposefully confusing. The results of this journey lie somewhere between the fiction and the real; a necessary component of realizing an idea across cultures, resulting in objects that straddle both worlds. Some of the field recordings may not be comprehensible at the moment. The Venn diagram of Luka’s contribution borrows context from Bambara speakers and Western vinyl collectors – a very small contingency. Vinyl records have an element of timelessness, only exaggerated in the presence of the fleeting digital. It is rumored that the Church of Scientology has left vinyl records of their scripture buried them in bunkers around the world – so when the surface of the planet is a smouldering crust, the survivors will come across these recordings and build an empire with their blueprint. Today’s fiction only needs time to pass into mythology.
Uchronia: The Unequivocal Interpretation of Reality runs from September 4th to October 16th, 2015 at 12Mail / Red Bull Space in Paris, France. The exhibition is produced by Red Bull and Carhartt WIP. (FB event page)
The mixtape of Music from Saharan Cellphones has been made into two vinyl records, but the momentum continues and two of the featured artists now have full lengths of their own.
Mdou Moctar, known for his autotuned anthems – the Hausa film interpretations of Tuareg guitar – has dozens of his own compositions. In 2012, I visited Tchin-Tabaradene, Niger to meet with Mdou and record. The resulting LP captures some of the highlights, from the electrifying wedding parties to mellow acoustic love ballads. Titled after the Tuareg warrior Afelan, a celebrated historical/folkloric hero of the Azawough of Western Niger (also the subject of one of Mdou’s songs), this is Mdou’s first and only release.
Pheno S. is of a very different school, one of Gao’s most popular rappers. As the first ever Mali Hip Hop on wax, Pheno is hardly representative of the country, but creates homemade and self produced village Hip Hop w/ Autotuned vocals, Fruityloop beats, and unconventional, yet somehow perfect, song structures. I visited in 2012, and downloaded the songs from Pheno’s cellphone, which were then remastered for vinyl. The jacket image of cyborg Pheno S. taking over the world pays homage to Pen and Pixel in an original Malian design by Prinsco Fatal Bass (previously featured in Sahel Digital Art expos).