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"I Speak Fula" Album Liner Notes
Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s the 'Buffet de la Gare', the club in the legendary train station of Bamako, was Mali's celebrated night-spot for music. In the mid 80s a young Bassekou Kouyate was playing a concert there together with members of the famous Rail Band, backing the singer Nainy Diabate. In those days ngoni players used to play their instrument sitting down; not standing up like the guitarists who fronted Mali's dance bands. This evening Bassekou had decided it was time to change that. Bassekou wanted to make the ngoni not just heard, but also seen. So during the show he suddenly stood up and walked up to the front of the stage. For the first time a ngoni player had strapped his instrument over his shoulder like an electric guitar and was playing a solo standing up. The audience was stunned. Traditionalists even started a debate after the concert about whether this young man, still a teenager, was allowed to change the style of
playing ngoni. What was new then has long become common practice in Mali today. In the last few years Bassekou and his band Ngoni ba have transformed their music further. They have created a new lineup as a quartet with a band's style of playing. The ngonis they play are still acoustic as in the old days, but Bassekou invented a bass ngoni even lower in pitch than the ngoni ba (low ngoni), and added extra strings to make their instruments harmonically more flexible. In the process Bassekou opened up the magic of an age-old music that he and his band have been playing for their entire lives, to people all over the world. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba rocking the stages from Bamako to London with only four ngonis have now sparked off a
new interest for this ancient instrument in Mali. Today not a week passes in Bamako without Bassekou being approached by young musicians who want to start a ngoni band.
The new album entitled ‘I Speak Fula’ expresses the spirit of openness and tolerance. The music of the griots has always been about building bridges between people. Mali itself is a very multi-ethnic country. ‘I Speak Fula’ is a playful song about the relationship between the Bamana and the Fula. Bassekou Kouyate is Bamana but it is normal for him to play Fula music. The song is played in a local style called Koreduga. If Malians hear a Koreduga song that means it is time to let their hair down, dance and enjoy. It is a song for everyone and you do not have to speak Fula to join the party.
For Bassekou it has been a long journey that started out in Garana, a small village on the Niger river where he grew up, then took him to the town of Segu, capital of the region, and on to Mali’s capital Bamako. And now it is taking him and his music around the world. Welcome to a new chapter of this exciting story.
01 I SPEAK FULA
This is an arrangement of a Bamana song called Koreduga, which has a wild dance. In the Koreduga song … you can say anything! It is a music everybody in Mali enjoys and it gets everyone immediately in a partying mood. This song refers to the relationship between the Bamana and Fula, two ethnicities who live in Segu. The Bamana ruled the region from 1712-1861, but then the Fula took power. It was the rulers and their armies who fought; on a local level, in villages, the Fula and Bamana had actually been living together harmoniously in the region, as they still do. It is a playful, mocking song named after a ruler at the time of the Bamana Empire. “If you can’t run, you shouldn’t chase after married women. If you can’t run fast, and the husband catches you, you’ll be dead. You say that I don’t speak Fula. - I was born and raised in a Fula village. Let me pull you into the hut, touch your haunches and you’ll see how well I speak Fula!!!”
02 JAMANA BE DIYA
ft. Kasse Mady Diabate, Toumani Diabate
Jamana be diya means “the nation will be strong, good”. This is a new take on a very popular Gambian song originally titled Massane Siise, sometimes called Dunuya. “Let’s all work together in harmony for a common goal, the goal of peace and progress in our country. Fighting is bad, why do we fight between families and between co-wives? Fighting destroys the nation. Let’s all be as one. Can’t you see that Americans united to vote Obama into power? If we join hands, our country will go forwards. Black people, white people, our ancestors came together at the time of Sunjata Keita to bring peace to the land. Friends who join forces will make our country a good place to live in.“ (Sunjata Keita founded the Mali Empire back in 1235).
03 MUSOW – FOR OUR WOMEN
“Anga mussolu fo” let us greet the women. We have to thank the women because they take care of our children, of their husband, the house, the food. It is them who give birth to our children. They gave birth to all of us …
04 TORIN TORIN
ft. Harouna Samake
Torin torin (slowly slowly) is about the victorious army of Biton oulibaly (the founder of the Bamana Empire in 1712). It is coming home after a battle celebrating their victory, dancing, partying. They are moving ‘torin torin’, taking their time celebrating their victory. The griots are there singing for them praising their courage and dignity talking about what happenend and the great things the warriors have done. The song features one of Mali's most talented kamele ngoni players Harouna Samake.
05 BAMBUGU BLUES
ft. Andra Kouyate, Vieux Farka Toure
This is about Nce (pronounced Nchi) one of the sons of Ngolo Diarra, ruler of the Bamana Empire (sometime around 1770s). Nce was exiled to a village called Bambugu far away from Segu and the river; the village had no water. The griots loved him because he was very generous, but they complained that they had nowhere to wash and so the villagers were shamefully dirty. And Nce's wife would wake up every morning in tears, saying she missed the sound of the hippos. So finally Nce said, I will bring the water to you! and had a huge canal built all the way from the Niger to the village, bringing irrigation and prosperity to the land. Unfortunately however Nce was very ugly - with teeth that stuck out, and one day he met a Fula ruler who mocked him, saying that the Fula would never accept such an ugly person to rule them (the Fula, being a very beautiful and rather vain people). So poor old Nce, humiliated, bashed his own teeth in with a stone - and died a couple of days later. The song is sung by Andra Kouyate, Bassekou’s brother, who used to play the ngoni bass in the band. The electric guitar on the track is by Vieux Farka Toure. He is Ali Farka Toure's son and is playing his father’s beloved electric guitar. Nothing sounds quite like it.
ft. Zoumana Tereta
“Amy Sacko is the wife of Bassekou. She is the daughter of Souayibou Sacko and Abbi Kouyate. She respects people, she is a good person. Amy Sacko is a woman of excellent manners, she is humble and knows her place.” Bassekou wrote this song for his wife, and asked Zoumana Tereta to sing it for him.
ft. Vieux Farka Toure
If anything happens to a good person, a person you love – if they die,
you’ll be devastated… it’s a prayer that nothing bad may happen to those who you love. Only a few days after recording this song, Bassekou’s younger brother Boubacar (“Saro”) was killed in a motorbike accident. Saro, one of nine remaining brothers by the same mother and father, was the favourite brother to all of them, a selfless and always cheerful and hardworking young man. This song is dedicated to him - as is the whole album.
Ladon means to educate, in the widest sense, not just formal school, but to bring up children with good values and behaviour. If you educate a child well, he will become someone of consequence, and the country will progress. Take care of the children. They are our future.
ft. Toumani Diabate
Tineni means little sardine. It uses traditional Bamana wedding lyrics that praise and encourage young girls to behave properly and remain virgins. “Those who do so can look forward to a happy destiny”.
Falani means the little orphan. Bassekou remembers this song sung to him by his mother when he was about to be circumcised. It was 4am and the boys were all standing in a row, in the bush in the dark, outside his village, Garana. They were afraid but they didn’t know what was about to happen to them. They’d been told that a big serpent would swallow them up and vomit them into hot water. At this moment, the mothers sang this song from a distance in the dark; unaccompanied, to encourage their sons to be brave, because if they ran or showed cowardice, later on in life they would never get a wife. Bassekou’s mother sang this song and it was really beautiful, she had such a fine voice, and she was crying because she knew what her son was about to go through, and that after he was healed, when he came back to her it would be as a young adult. Her little son was gone for ever. Then they had to take hold of her and drag her away. It’s called “the little orphan" because he is the only one who runs away, because he has no mother to sing him through his fear. The chorus says: “ little orphan, why are you running? The orphan doesn't reply. Little orphan, you are running away out of fear…" The night before we began the recording in the studio, Bassekou dreamt about this song, and decided to arrange it for the album. Amy can’t listen to it without crying!
In Bamana culture, you find a thousand ways of saying that an elder has died – you say that he is lost, gone missing, that he has lain down, or having a rest from which he will wake up. Because after death, people live on in their families, their children and grandchildren. Moustapha Kouyate, father of Bassekou, lives on in Bassekou’s brothers and sisters and all their offspring. This is a tribute to a very great ngoni player from Garana who has passed on his skills and talent to the next generation.
BONUS Senufo Hunter
ft. Dramane Ze Konate
The song is sung in a kind of Senufo-Bamana dialect, from the south of Mali on the border with Cote d’Ivoire. Dramane Ze is a hunter and the m’polon is the Senufo version of the hunters’ harp. Dramane Ze sings of the great Bamana warriors, and praises the people who have done great things for Mali. He compares these powerful people to great hunters, when he describes them as snake-eating-snake. Bassekou Kouyate met Dramane Ze during the Opera du Sahel and fell in love with his music and style. Dramane Ze came to the studio with an old m’polon which he played in 1960 for Mali's first president Modibo Keita when he visited Kolondieba, Dramene Ze’s home town. Nobody in the studio wanted to touch it for it is believed to be very
Bassekou Kouyate ngoni solo, ngoniba
Amy Sacko all lead vocals (except 05, 10), chorus
Omar Barou Kouyate medium ngoni
Fousseyni Kouyate ngoniba
Moussa Bah ngoni bass
Alou Coulibaly calabash, chorus
Moussa Sissoko yabara, tamani
Kasse Mady Diabate vocals (02)
Vieux Farka Toure electric guitar (05, 07)
Toumani Diabate kora (02, 09)
Harouna Samake kamalengoni (03, 04)
Zoumana Tereta lead vocal, soku (06)
Andra Kouyate chorus, lead vocals (05)
Mah Soumano chorus
Baba Sissoko dunun (07)
Baba Diabate dunun (03)
Jelimusoba mpolon (11)
Dramane Ze Konate vocals, mpolon (bonus track)
Toumani Diabate appears courtesy of World Circuit
Kasse Mady Diabate appears courtesy of Universal
Vieux Farka Toure appears courtesy of Six Degrees Records
Recorded at Studio Bogolan in Mali by Jerry Boys
Assistant Engineer Eli Oubda
Mixed in London by Jerry Boys
Mastered by Tom Leader
Produced by Lucy Duran and Jerry Boys
Executive Producer Jay Rutledge
Liner Notes Lucy Duran & Jay Rutledge
All Photography Thomas Dorn except * by Marie Planeille
Design Felix Kempf
All Titles Published by World Circuit
FOR NEXT AMBIANCE
A&R Jon Kertzer
Business Affairs Eric Brown
Project Management Richard Laing
Cover Design & Art Direction Dusty Summers
Next Ambiance thanks Bela Fleck, Sascha Paladino, Banning Eyre, Taj Mahal, Lucy Duran, Violet Diallo, Mel Puljic at Mondo Mundo, Jay Rutledge, David Macias, Tom Mara and everyone at KEXP in Seattle. And special thanks to Jonathan Poneman for his guidance and support, along with all the staff at Sub Pop.
Bassekou Kouyate would like to thank:
my mother Yakare Damba who has helped me so much, my brother Saro may he rest in peace, my wife Amy Sacko, all my musicians: Fousseyni, Barou Kouyate, Moussa Bah, Alou Coulibaly, Moussa Sissoko, et aussi Andra Kouyate, Mah Soumano, Zoumana Tereta, Dramane Ze, Harouna Samake, Vieux Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Baba Sissoko. Also Violet Diallo, Jerry Boys, Ilka, Esther, Mark, Nick Gold, Mike Dibb, Thomas Dorn, Georg Milz, Mathias Neuefeind, Antje, Fels, Yakare Ni Kouyate, mes enfants Madou & Moustapha, Jay Rutledge & last but not least Lucy Duran.
This album is dedicated to Saro Kouyate † 2008
Under exclusive license from Outhere Records
for North America, Australia, & New Zealand
From the Palace to the People: A Global Griot Saves a West ...
"I Speak Fula" Album Liner Notes
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