Blog November 9, 2012
Mali Update: Songs for the North
As regular readers surely know, everyone here at Afropop has been heartsick for months over the political and cultural tragedy that has been unfolding in the nation of Mali. While there has been precious little good news from the ground, it's reassuring to know that we are by no means alone in our concern, and we were excited to hear about two new projects aiming to bring aid and attention to the Mali's musical community. The first of these comes from Sahel Sounds, the label/blog run by roving sound recordist Chris Kirkley. Given the extent to which his work has focused on the music of northern Mali, it's no surprise that Chris wanted to do something to help the region's hard-hit musicians. And, in light of the success of his record label, it certainly makes sense that this effort would take the form of a compilation. What wasn't necessarily obvious was that the result would be such a pleasure- bittersweet with the knowledge of what the artists being featured have endured, but a musical pleasure nonetheless. Those familiar with Kirkley's raw production/recording style will certainly recognize the sudden shifts of fidelity and ambiance between tracks, a trademark that he has brought to most of the projects with which he's been associated. Those who haven't previously heard it are in for a serious treat- destabilizing the usually fixed relationship between the listener and the recording artist, the tracks on the compilation vary wildly in recording style, moving from (relatively) polished full band tracks from groups like Alkibar Gignor to raw recordings of singing children or the markets of Bamako. Avoiding any sense of distance or artifice, the result is an incredible sense of intimacy- you hear this music the way that you would if you were in the room, the way that the people playing it hear it in their lives. It makes for a powerful listen- sound art and music and cultural exploration all at once. AND its for a good cause- the album is available as a name-your-price download, and all of the money that Chris gets will go straight to the artists. So, if you can, give some support! Prior to the coup that began Mali's spiral of revolt and violence, one of the nation's musical highlights was the yearly "Festival in the Desert", a gathering of musical talent that brought fans from across the world to the beautiful north. Afropop was lucky enough to go to one of those festivals- we made a show (and a documentary) about the experience. Luckily, last year's festival occurred just before vast swathes of the country became no-go zones for westerners. Undeterred by threats from the music-banning islamicists who have seized power in the north, this year's festival has been reconsituted as two traveling caravans that will move through the country, skirting dangerous zones while sending "a strong message of defiance to the extremists." Sahel Calling is a documentary that plans to chart this journey, traveling with the musicians and sharing in the experience. Embracing a tradition of musical communication that has existed in Mali for centuries, it will spread the word about the dire situation facing the hundreds of thousands displaced by both drought and violence. Read more about the project here!