Mali Blues - JeConte & The Mali Allstars
Mali gives her very best as she suffers the very worst. Bamako; in 2006 it was the fastest growing city in Africa, the sixth in the world, a cosmopolitan hub steeped in the legacy of an empire, now rudderless and vulnerable. Timbuktu; the aphorismatic ‘end of the world’ was in reality the gateway to the Sahara, and today, a no man’s land. Festival au Désert, a celebration of Tuareg culture and global music has now become ‘The Festival in Exile’. Tourism has all but vanished and the country has been fractured along ethnic lines, with 400, 000 of her people in refugee camps. It was in this stultifying atmosphere of hopelessness that the crème de la crème of Mali’s musicians rose up, dusted themselves off and entered the studio for an intensive work-out of collaboration and improvisation. Mali Blues was recorded over 2 years at Bamako’s Hampate Bah Studios and Yeelen Studios, beginning in 2011, and throughout the coup d’etat of 2012. JeConte, a throaty blues singer and harmonica player, California-bred and New Orleans-inspired met fellow harpoonist, Boubacar Sidibé and electric guitar whiz, Adama Dramé at the renowned Festival au Désert in 2010. They would form the nucleus of the Mali Blues project which would go on to recruit Timbuktu diva, Khaira Arby, ngoni master, Bassekou Kouyate and the incomparable Vieux Farka Touré. Anyone of these artists could coast convincingly through an experiment in East meets West, cross-cultural blues. Instead, each delivers some of his/her most inspired work to date on this bilingual album. JeConte’s soulful singing and harp-blowing tethers Delta and African blues together in tribute to the Malian people. It’s unusual to hear some English lyricism over the North African grooves but the spirit is authentic and sits neatly. “The goal of Mali Blues is to build awareness for the music and people of Mali, donating a percentage of the proceeds to JeConte’s non-profit www.soulnow.org (Save Our Universal Language Now)”, details the accompanying press material. Focus tracks include a showcase for Vieux Farka Touré called ‘Le Monde :Pour La Paix’ (The World For Peace), ‘Nous Aimons Le Mali’ (We Love Mali) featuring both the vocals of JeConte and Khaira Arby with Bassekou Kouyate, and ‘Bamako Blues’ a musical meeting between harpmen Conte and Sidibé (coincidentally, also the name of a great track by the late Bob Brozman). It’s astonishing that players who individually operate at such high a caliber, can in collaboration and in adversity, ascend to even greater heights.