Saturday, July 31, 2010

Back in business

As many of you may know, next Monday (the 9th), we are heading to West Africa for the first time. I'll be hunting out some of the musical activities of Accra, Bamako, and Dakar as we travel through Ghana, Mali, and Senegal for 3 weeks.

It's going to be Ramadan (the Islamic holy month of fasting) while we're there, and since we've never been abroad during Ramadan, I don't really know what to expect. The days will likely be fairly lazy, with little public activity and plenty of long naps, but after sundown, people bring out the festivities. While Annie is busy working hard, I hope to locate the parties and hunt out the activities. It's my job, after all...

For anyone curious about the kind of music that will be surrounding us as we meander through urban West Africa, here's a short list.

Toumani Diabate is considered the greatest living kora player. The kora is a 21-stringed instrument that comes through generations of praise singers. Diabate is the 71st in his lineage to play the instrument and has a number of interesting collaborations. My iPod has been repeating an album from his Symmetric Orchestra, which incorporates horns, funk, swing, jazz, etc. His recent Mande Variations are more subtle, closer to the acoustic, quiet capabilities of the kora that identify the instrument at its best.

Youssou N'Dour and Baaba Maal are collectively the sound of Senegal. N'Dour just put out a film, I Bring What I Love, and the accompanying soundtrack is a solid greatest hits album. (The film is available to watch instantly if you have Netflix.) Check this out for a good example, it also shows him as a praise singer (the traditional role of this line of musicians)... His Egypt combines his Senegalese musical style with a celebration of Islam. Musically, he incorporates the sound of an Egyptian orchestra, creating a pan-North African fusion unlike anything else I know of.

Ali Farke Toure and his son Veux Farka Toure are the most famous of many, many Malian guitarists. Their music is often combined with that of blues artists (Ry Cooder and Corey Harris are the most prominent), and many identify this Malian sound as the root of the American blues. Cooder's album with the elder Toure, Talking Timbuktu, won a Grammy a while back, if I remember correctly, and is definitely worth a listen. His son's more recent work demonstrates contemporary trends as tradition is transformed alongside international and Parisian dance styles to form a novel pop sound.

These folks identify the second half of our trip, incorporating Mali and Senegal. I'll get back later with some good examples of Ghanaian high-life and hip-life (high-life plus hip-hop).

We're pretty stoked about the trip, just hoping and praying that our passports get back from the Ghanaian  Embassy with visas intact... We're cutting it close.