A Malian's Musings about Music and Mali…

“Desert” by Emilie Simon and Thievery Corporation



Remixes often attempt to recreate the “feeling” associated with an original song just by changing the music. This is hardly possible considering the fact that other factors such as your state of mind or the situation in which you were when you heard the song for the first time, affect how you react to it. Technically it’s impossible to recreate that feeling…..I’m pretty sure there is no way to bring back the feeling of hearing and seeing MJ perform Billie Jean at Motown in 1983 (for those who saw it live). It is only in a few exceptional cases that we encounter a remix that we consider “better” than the original…. This is one of those exceptions.

Thievery Corporation took Emilie Simon’s “Desert” from great to exceptional. They stripped down the track to it’s bare minimum, leaving only a single melody from its original version, and then gave it a whole new feel. They added some weight to the baseline, re-worked the drums, created new melodies and sprinkled some of their trademark effects on the mix.

“Desert” is about dealing with the solitude experienced when away from a significant other.

“Mon coeur est lourd/ Je compte les heures/ Je compte les jours”
Translates to: “My heart is heavy/I’m counting the hours/I’m counting the days…”

Title: Desert (Thievery Corporation Remix)
Artist: Emilie Simon
Album: Versions (Thievery Corporation), 2006

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“In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane



Duke Ellington on the piano and John Coltrane on the saxophone: the outcome could not have been anything other than ‘classic’.

“In a sentimental mood” was originally an Ellington record from the 1940s. In the early 1960s, Ellington for the first time in his career began doing a lot of collaborations to get inspired and modernize some of his old records. This was recorded in 1962 and is the most famous of his collaborations with the premier sax player of that generation: John Coltrane.

Even the clear stylistic differences between these two artists could not cast a shadow over the brilliance this recording. Ellington’s cool, detached and understated piano seems happy to let Coltrane’s sax take center stage and play the leading role in this “movie”. The sax here is definitely telling a story. You can get a sense of the emotion behind the story, but the plot is left to your own imagination.

One of the greatest Jazz ballads of all time.

Title: In a sentimental mood
Artist: Duke Ellington, John Coltrane
Album: Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, 1962

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“Berekere” by Geraldo Azevedo


Forro is folk Brazilian music that originates from the Northeastern part of the country. It is extremely rhythmic and a permanent fixture at parties. Forró lyrics are usually about love and romance, passion, jealousy, or reminiscing about an ex-lover. They often are about Northeastern themes and the longing or homesickness (Saudade) that was often experienced during migrations in search of work.

Geraldo Azevedo is considered a pioneer in the genre and has been very popular since the 1970s. I came across “Berekeke” in 2000 while snooping around a friend’s music folders on his computer. I’ve been a fan ever since.
With the acoustic guitar being my favorite instrument, Berekeke really hits home for me. The song involves multiple guitars that interact to create a beautiful “mess” in terms of melodies, while keeping traditional samba rhythms with the percussion.


Title: Berekeke
Artist: Geraldo Azevedo
Album: Berekeke, 1995

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“Diarabi” by Amy Koita


Amy Koita

Diarabi: the Bambara word for love and I suppose the number one theme in all of music (probably art). Whatever love really is always up for debate but one thing is for sure: the concept has always brought out the very best in artists. Music, painting, writing (the list goes on) all tend to validate their expression using the presence, absence or desire for love.

There is great irony in the fact that I’m actually sitting here writing about a song I used to HATE with a passion when I was a kid.
I was deep in my Micheal Jackson phase and wasn’t trying to hear some lady singing about love. The song was released as the first single to Amy Koita’s album Tata Sira in 1986 and up to this day it is still considered one of Mali’s biggest ever hits.
So I didn’t really give the song a chance until I was about 19 (15 years after the songs release) and I met one of the engineers who actually mixed the song back in 1986. He took me through the process of making this record and on second listen I began to pay attention to the arrangement and how the instruments played off each other.

An electric guitar, a Ngoni (traditional West African guitar), a balafon (xylophone looking african percussion instrument) and a flute found a way to blend seamlessly into some pretty incredible melodies. The more I listen to this song the more I understand why it’s considered a classic.

I had the opportunity to make amends for my previous negativity towards the song (cut me some slack I was only 4 when this first came out) when I sat at the same table as Amy Koita at a charity event in Bamako in 2007. I was finally able to express to her my new found affection for “Diarabi”.

Welcome to Mali.

Purchase Song Here

Title: Diarabi
Artist: Amy Koita
Album: Tata Sira, 1986

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“Kaira” by Toumani Diabate


Toumani Diabate

The Kora is one of West Africa’s most beautiful gifts to the world. Its 21 strings attached to a calabash make it look like a Harp, but its sound has so much more soul…so much more depth.

Toumani Diabate is the son of Mali’s original Kora “King”, Sidiki Diabate who recorded the first ever full-length Kora album in 1970. Toumani followed his father’s footsteps and took them even further with his first album “Kaira” which was recorded in London and released internationally in 1988.

The fact that the entire “Kaira” album was just recorded in one afternoon takes nothing away from its quality and in my opinion, just adds to its magic. Inspiration and improvisation are necessary ingredients when making timeless music.

I don’t love the kora just because of its sound but also because of what it symbolizes: the artist, his instrument, his skill and the spiritual presence of our ancestors passing down stories, wisdom and what it means to be who we are.

I’m immensely proud to have any sort of connection to this.

Title: Kaira
Artist: Toumani Diabate
Album: Kaira, 1988

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“Ai Du” by Ali Farka Toure & Ry Cooder

Ali Farka Toure

In the spirit of properly representing my Malian roots, it’s only right that the first gem i showcase is from my favorite Malian artist: the late great Ali Farka Toure (October 31, 1939 – March 7, 2006). Widely considered the best African guitarist there was in his genre, Toure was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”….but I’m not going to make this about his career achievements…or I’d have to start talking about his two Grammy awards etc…etc…etc….etc….and we could be here for a long while.

Ai Du is the kind of music you get lost in…the right tempo, understated drums, haunting melodies, incredible guitar work and of course the harmonica as if to remind us that we are indeed listening to the blues……gorgeous…even sensual. I have yet to run into someone who has seen the movie “Unfaithful” (Richard Gere, Diane Lane, 2002) and hasn’t wondered about “that African song playing when she’s in the bathtub”.

To those arguing for of the opinion that North American Blues is a direct derivative of West African Music, ‘Ai Du’ is definitely another point in your favor.

Enjoy.

Title: Aidu
Artists: Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder
Album: Talking Timbuktu, 1994

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