“A lot of people believe Mali will be the next Cuba,” says Putumayo VP of A&R Jacob Edgar, reflecting on the potential of Mali’s music to crossover to a wider audience. The Putumayo World Music compilation Mali will be released on May 3, 2005. “The music is otherworldly and familiar at the same time, and the artists have really interesting stories.”
One of the most striking things about Mali is the diversity of artists represented. Ramatou Diakité comes from the fields of the bluesy Wassoulou region of southern Mali. Tinariwen is a Kel Temeshek or Tuareg band, whose trancey Sahara desert blues served as the musical soundtrack to a fierce fight against discrimination, passed via cassette from camel to 4x4 to taxi across the region. Though Habib Koité—the only artist featured on the album that comes from a griot family—originates from the Bambara tribe, he is known for integrating a diversity of Malian styles into his repertoire. Habib is signed to Putumayo and has released two successful albums, Ma Ya and Baro on the label. A live track and an enhancement featuring a live concert performance by Habib are highlights of the Mali collection.
“Another great Malian musician seems to come along every year,” Edgar points out. “Sure, there are the big names like Salif Keïta, Ali Farka Toure, and Oumou Sangare, but Mali always offers up something new. Issa Bagayogo emerged with his subtle mix of electronics and traditional Malian music, and was a revelation for American audiences.” This is the first time Bagayogo’s “Bana” will be released in America. Mali also features Mamou Sidibé, who worked with the same producers as Bagayogo to create a beguiling blend of tradition and technology.
Moussa Diallo was raised by his Danish mother and Malian father in Bamako, but moved to Denmark at age 19. He’s spent the past 30 years performing there and has developed workshops and books to help Danish children learn about Malian culture. Tom Diakité left Mali to join the National Folklore Ensemble of the Ivory Coast. Eventually, Diakité settled in France where he has worked with everyone from the Gipsy Kings to Mory Kanté. Diakité teamed up with British guitarist Sam Mills and percussionist Djanuno Dabo from Guinea-Bissau to form the band Tama. “Fala”—released here for the first time—is the title track of his forthcoming solo album.
The Mali album also features legends that didn’t gain recognition until later in life. Idrissa Soumaoro didn’t record his first album until age 55. When he was young, Soumaoro played in Les Ambassadeurs alongside legends Salif Keïta and Kante Manfila. But when a hit song he wrote was pirated across Africa, he became discouraged and gave up his musical career, becoming an instructor at Mali’s National Institute for the Blind. While there, he met and trained Amadou and Mariam—young rising stars in Malian music whose recent albums earned critical acclaim in Europe and America.
Often seen on stage with Habib Koité, Kélétigui Diabaté is a legendary figure in Malian music and one of the foremost balafón (xylophone) players in Africa. A founding member of the first national orchestras of both Mali and Guinea, Diabaté is also an excellent craftsman, making his own balafóns by hand. At 70, he recorded the track “Koulandian” for his long-awaited first solo album.
Boubacar Traoré was once heard daily on national radio in Mali, but disappeared into obscurity after his wife passed away. It is only in recent years that he has returned to his music career. “Kanou”—another track making its American debut on Mali—was inspired by the Bollywood films that Traoré and many Africans grew up watching. The song also features a first-time collaboration with Malagasy accordionist Régis Gizavo.
“Mali is one of those places that—like Cuba, South Africa, and Brazil—is an epicenter of extraordinary music,” Edgar continues. “It is a cultural crossroads that has taken elements of West African, Berber, bluesy music of the Bambara region, and Western contemporary music, and blended them to create something that’s incredible.”
Mali features a Malian recipe for Tiguadégé Na (meat in peanut sauce) and colorful photos from the Lonely Planet book series. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of this CD will be donated to Oxfam America in support of their development efforts in Mali.