Tag Archives: ngoni

Luka Productions studio work

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Luka Prod – New Track

Luka Productions, known around here for his Fasokan LP and renowned in Mali for a prolific output of contemporary Malian Hip Hop is back in the studio on a new project. Bringing in a group of musicians, ngoni, guitar, percussion, synth, and computer, it’s very exciting stuff. Luka seems to be at the front of the avant garde beatmakers, forging a path that is both respected and popular, but remarkably original in execution. Electronic Malian music is not new – but the purposeful interpretation a new thing. While there are dozens of producers turned musicians, Hip Hop producers turned studio engineers, the beat-making is almost always left behind as a “indulgence of youth.” The two worlds are self contained, and music rarely spans the rift.

The group, yet to be named, has dropped a few tracks to me via Whatsapp. Mali Internet 2.0 has obviously shifted things around in the country. Just recently the government temporarily blocked social media during a government protest, attempting to intercept the role of social media communication to rally the populace. With Whatsapp on every phone, communication (in spite of Bamako’s elites) has never been easier. Media flows both ways – even writing about music, on said blog, is no longer a mystery box for West Africa, but this post alone will be shared and promoted via Bamako’s Facebook channels.

Sitting far away in Portland, I’ve been watching the progress of the session via Whatsapp, with live in-studio jams from the luka productions studio – a mini Boiler Room, while everyone crowds into the tiny studio. I scour the internet for a non-English speaking music residency (the band wants to do some work in Europe), and how best to talk about a music genre that doesn’t exist yet.


photo by Kyle Mijlof

Bamako sits in a valley, the river slicing through the city. It’s a fascinating and easy place compared to the other metropolises, but for the perpetual haze drifting over the water, smoke spewing from the chinese motorbikes screaming back and forth over the bridges, the ramshackle taxi buses with blaring horns. It’s difficult to leave once you’re in the city, the sprawl unfolding outwards over the foreseeable horizon. It takes a call from the musician Jah Youssouf to escape the throes of the capital, a long taxi ride beyond Bamako.

Jah Youssouf lives at the edges, where the density and noise of the city disintegrates into wide swaths of red dust and rock. The ribbon of asphalt is shared with horses and carriages. This is the neighborhood Moribabougou, technically still a part of Bamako, but with village ambitions. The taxi drops us alongside a mud oven where nearby a man is butchering a decapitated sheep hanging (formerly) head first. A small boy inches closer and closer, awkwardly playing with his cellphone, patiently waiting to see what it is we’re doing. Suddenly, a car comes screaming over the football field, headlights flashing. Jah rolls down the window and waves us inside, spiriting us away to his house.

Jah Youssouf is a well known musician in Mali, playing Wassoulou music. He was self taught on the kamel Ngoni, the 10 string harp popular in the Dozo, or “hunters'” music. His wife, Bintou Coulibaly is also a musician, accompanying him with vocals and on the calabash. We happen to arrive on a busy day — Bintou’s sister is visiting from France, so it’s a rather full house (even allowing a brief visit with Djibril Dicko, former guitarist for Ensemble National de Mali). We record a few songs during throughout the afternoon, between a heaping meal of rice and peanut sauce, Jah playing two of his homemade Ngonis as well as the guitar.

Jah Youssouf – Bintou

Bintou Coulibaly w/ Jah Youssouf on Kamel Ngoni

Jah prefers to live here outside the city — even with the understanding that the life of musician is tethered to the bustle of Bamako. In this simple house with no electricity, the only sound outside is the wind in the trees, the call of a bird. In 2009, musician Brad Loving stayed with the couple for a month. A close friend of the two, he recorded their first international album, the stirring and melancholy Wassoulou music from the South — now available via bandcamp:

big ups to freelance South African based Kyle Mijlof for his photographs of Jah and Bintou — see more at his site.