Category Archives: new media

Takamba WhatsApp on March 28th, 2018

Takamba WhatsApp

Takamba music is played on traditional guitar (tamashek: teheredent), with a remarkable distinctive rhythm tapped out on a calabash. It’s always accompanied by a beautiful ghostly dance. I’ve written about the music previously and released a few records. The origin of the music remains somewhat shrouded in mystery. Suffice to say that it’s a hugely popular music that ruled the festivals and weddings in the North of Mali and Niger, before it was bumped out of fashion by the electric guitar teshumara that now dominates the scene.

I first met Agali while searching for griots in Timbouctou, and he warmly invited me back to his home later that evening. I proposed to make him a recording, which he could sell on CD (later formed the basis of our 2012 release “Takamba”). The recording was punctuated with shout outs throughout – “Christoph! New York! Mali!”. Although I’ve not returned to Timbouctou in years, I once ran into the recording again. A tense moment, in rural Niger, fleeing from potential Salafists, it came on the car’s radio – a surreally comforting Agali kept sending me his thoughts as we barrelled through the countryside.

It’s almost impossible to get a takamba recording minus the shout-outs. Takamba musicians usually do not play to release music in commercial form, and recordings are organized by someone. These sessions were recorded to cassette in the past. Takamba musicians played directly into a boombox and onto tape. The tapes circulated, resold and dubbed at markets across the Sahel. The format on the recordings is always the same. After a sort introduction (something shared with “teshumara” tuareg guitar recordings) the musicians launch into song, yet keep a constant narration about the songs, the musicians, the people present, and the person commisioning the recording. The songs become self referential, constantly reminding where, when, and why they were made.

Takamba 2011

I’ve haven’t made it back to Timbouctou for years, due to security concerns. And it’s very difficult to organize a new recording with our channels of communication. Agali, for example, speaks very little French, and any phone call requires him to walk through town to find his brother to translate. Even then, the connection to Timbouctou is fickle. And neither of them can use a computer, record songs, or have a monthly subscription to Google Drive. A few days ago I had an idea. “Do any of the younger kids at your house have Whatsapp?” Soon I was connected with his nephew, who not only has a smartphone with Whatsapp, but also speaks English. We had actually met before, he told me: in 2011, we couldn’t find a mic stand, and he had been tasked with holding the microphone. With this new line of communication, we began planning a new album.

Today, Agali sent over a recording. It was recorded today, played directly into the cellphone, and sent to me via WhatsApp. It’s recorded in the classic “cassette” format, with an introduction, explanation (in French!), shout-outs, and name drops. The new media form of takamba is evocative of the cassette (Agali even refers to it as such on the recording). The new Takamba just has the added benefit that it can just move a lot quicker, if you know where to look.

Agali Ag Amoumine’s Takamba WhatsApp EP 2018 is available on bandcamp now. It’s unmastered, not eq’ed, and preserves the format. It was recorded, sent, and uploaded today. It’s definitely the quickest we ever released a recording. It’s probably best listened to on a cellphone.

It’s a free download, but if you pay 100% of proceeds go to Agali. I think that’s called World Music 2.0.

We’ll have a new album soon, and hopefully a tour to follow in 2019!

Mdou Moctar USA Tour 2017

MDOU TOUR 2017

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.

beyond the thunderdome, malian science fiction

malian science fiction

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!”

malian science fiction

Akounak DVD

Akounak DVD
Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai is now available!

The first ever Tuareg language fictional film, based on the legendary rock-u-drama “Purple Rain,” Akounak or “Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red in it” explores the world of a musician trying to succeed in the raucous subculture of the Niger guitar scene. The protagonist, real life musician Mdou Moctar, must battle fierce competition from jealous musicians, overcome family conflicts, endure the trials of love, and overcome his biggest rival — himself. Carried by stunning musical performances from Mdou, the film is a window into modern day Tuareg guitar and an experiment in participatory ethnographic filmmaking.

The past year, the film has toured around the world at various screening and festivals. We got to travel around with the film and meet lots of folks. Mdou got to come to the US for the first time and present the film in New York. We had loads of unexpected press, and learned that blogs are still killing it. We’ve even got to organize a few screenings for celebrities (we’re not saying who). It’s been a fun, weird journey, and we’re excited to keep moving forward – thank you for the support!

You can rent/stream from Vimeo or grab a limited edition Akounak DVD from the shop. In Tamashek, with English, French and Spanish (streaming only) subtitles.

new age bamako

image by cheick amadou ouattara & maciek pozoga

image by cheick amadou ouattara & maciek pozoga

In 2015, I had the opportunity to work on a bit of a dream project entitled Uchronia, an exhibition and recording lying somewhere between conceptual art and experimental ethnography. The process was a series of collaborative “fake” ethnographies (or ethnographic forgeries) – a very flagrant self conscious expression in a field that and hides the role of the documentarians in documentary.

Bambara Affirmations – Relaxation Cassette, Taxi

One of the more interesting recordings produced was the above titled “Bambara Affirmations” from
Bamako based Hip Hop producer/composer/rapper Luka Productions (facebook link). Modeled on the new age genre of affirmation music, the conception was a spontaneous, humorous conversation in Luka’s tiny studio, where we took clichéd and hackneyed phrases and translated them into Bambara (“you are transforming into a butterfly,” etc). The resultant track was mixed into a field recording and conjured scene: a stressed out Bamako taxi driver, gridlocked in stifling humidity of the fast growing riverside metropolis, concentrating on the soothing voice on the cassette.

Luka – new test track

Recently I proposed Luka to make a full album similar to the recording, based around the previous artifact, but further extrapolated. The first tracks have begun to trickle in via Whatsapp and Wetransfer, now to be mixed and mastered. They are at once familiar to Mali, lying between the measured griot speaking over a looping melody to the the verbal wordplay of contemporary Bamako Hip Hop, suggesting a continuity outside of the narrative of Western Influence in Global Hip Hop.

Luka says there has been a curious reaction to the songs: when he’s working in the studio, a nexus of Bamako Rap scene, many of the musicians and emcees are asking for copies of the tracks. As much as it is familiar, it is also something new – an artifact of a fake world. As we move forward into completion, perhaps they will find their way into an actual taxi, like some Borgean artifact. Will they carry forward a similar affirmation when reinterpreted by Bamako’s Hip Hop culture? Non-Bambara readership of the blog will have to remain in suspense for the moment. Stay tuned.