October 15, 2015


'Tempus fugit', often translated as 'time flies', actually means 'time escapes'. This is how I experience the passing of time; it rushes on and I am running after it trying to catch up.
In this post I would like to share with you a video, which I recorded in 2011 and which I have been meaning to post on this blog ever since. But time has been escaping me, and we are now in 2015.

The recording was made in October 2011, in a bar called Le Tempo in central Bamako. And the name seems very fitting for the music which was performed by a group of clearly seasoned musicians. For walking into the bar was like walking into a time machine, and being transported to the early 1970s.
And perhaps even to a different place. For this music reminded me of legendary artists like Dexter Johnson, Laba Sosseh, Idy Diop, Papa and Mar Seck. Music with a strong Latin or Cuban flavour, hot and languid. Languid in a positive sense: with the ease that comes from an inherited understanding, and not from fanatic practice.

Unfortunately the sound is slighty distorted, but it should give you an idea of the almost unreal quality of this orchestra. The flute player would fit in easily with any top Cuban orchestra. Unfortunately I did not have time to go back and find out who he is, but this man is topnotch. The vocals in these two cleverly linked songs are superb. The harmonies in "Que Humanidad" (the first if the two) are in my opinion better than in Johnny Pacheco's original from the mid-1960s, particularly for the despondent tone. The second song, "Oriente", does not surpass the original, but this is not surprising as the original is by the immortal Cheo Marquetti* when he was singing with Chappottin y sus Estrellas, at a time when they were - rightly - at the top of their fame. But the Tempo band still manages to give the song its own feeling.

Out of character and emphasising that I am not going to be making a habit of this, I would like to add that if you like this 'genre' I can recommend the releases by Terangabeat, noteably those of Idrissa (Idy) Diop, Mar Seck and Dexter Johnson, despite the fact that I get the impression that in 'restoring' the original they may have in some cases overshot the mark.

Returning to the music of Mali: a lot has been written about the Latin influence into the music of the Malian orchestras. While I am inclined to believe that this influence is being overstated, it does not mean there was no influence. Apart from a few musicians who went to, visited or even studied in Cuba (such as Boncana Maiga, who can been seen nowadays presenting a rather unfortunate weekly magazine on modern African music on the French TV5), Mali also went through a Latin 'wave', - as did most countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas**. Often records from the GV-series on the HMV-label (from the 1950s) are cited as a major influence on West African music, but I have my doubts about this. This series contained mainly Cuban son music, and little of this music remains in the West African music of either the 1950s or 1960s. I suspect Mali went along with the worldwide craze in the 1960s.

I had heard from several musicians that there had been orchestras in the era of Modibo Keita which combined Latin with Malian, and even French music. But for decades this music seemed to have been lost in the mist of time (as is the case with far too much music in the African continent). But fortunately Florent Mazzoleni managed to dig up this cassette, which I would like to share with you here. The cassette contains no information apart from the title of the orchestra: Askia Jazz.

This orchestra was reputedly founded in 1960, in the wake of Mali's independence, by pupils of the Lycée Askia Modibo in Bamako. Several musicians claim to have started in this orchestra, but one member who has been confirmed by several sources is the legendary sax player Harouna Barry. I am not quite sure which instrument Harouna Barry played with Askia Jazz, but reports suggest it was not the saxophone, as he only took up playing this instruments years later. He only stayed with Askia Jazz for a few years before moving to Gao, where he worked as teacher. In the mid-1970s he joined Boncana Maiga in Les Maravillas. And ten years later, in the mid-1980s, he was the leader of the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali before becoming the chef d'orchestre of National Badèma. He remained in this position until his retirement in 2001. Harouna Barry passed away in January 2008.

Other members included Mohamed Cheick Tabouré, who - according to this article - stated that the creation of Askia Jazz was made possible by using the money from the deposits which student had to pay when they joined the Lycée. This money was used to buy instruments in Abidjan. The example of the Lycée Askia Modibo was soon followed by other schools in Bamako.
Tabouré, by the way, is in the news in Mali with some regularity as a leading member and spokesperson of le Mouvement Populaire du 22 mars, which was created to support the plotters of the coup d'état of March 2012.

As per usual I am open to any suggestions with regard to the titles of the 16 songs of this cassette. I have added my suggestions, - but they are just that: suggestions.

Askia Jazz du Lycée Askia Modibo

Many thanks to Florent Mazzoleni for filling in this bit of musical history from Mali!

* but what is surprising is the fact that Marquetti, born in the Occidente of Cuba (Alquízar), should be so melancholic about the Oriente.
** even in the Netherlands we had a spell a Latin madness. I particularly remember this frisky chachacha from my youth.