A Malian's Musings about Music and Mali…
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“Tajabone” by Ismael Lo

The “Blues” genre is perhaps a more likely forum for the interaction between a guitar and a harmonica than a classic west African song.  However, as another testament to how global music is, we find them here on this African masterpiece.

Tajabone is the song that put Senegal’s Ismael Lo on the world map with its instant success on the European music charts back in 1992.  Ismael Lo is revered for his versatility.  He expertly alternates between his guitar, a harmonica and vocals during his live performances. Lo was a guitarist for Super Diamano, a “Mbalax” blues band, for five years before leaving to start his own solo career. He is often referred to as the “Bob Dylan of Senegal” because of his guitar and harmonica combination coupled with his conscious lyrics.

Gem.

Title: Tajabone / Artist: Ismael Lo/ Album: Ismael Lo, 1991


“I’m a fool to want you” by Billie Holiday

I heard this song in a “Chanel N 5” commercial a little while ago.  Being a fan of Billie Holiday, I’m very surprised that this didn’t catch my attention a lot sooner. 

That being said, “Lady Day” has so many great songs in her catalogue, a few of them are bound to “go over your head”.  Another reason could be that the visuals from the commercial brought the song to life and made me appreciate the story being told.  The “Chanel” commercial was not the first time I listened to this song, it was the first time I truly “heard” it.

The “Lady in Satin” album was originally released in 1958 about a year before her death.  By that time she was suffering from poor health, mainly due to her heroin addiction, and the years of both physical and emotional scars had taken their toll on her voice.  She had lost a lot of that youthful spark in her vocals and all that was left was the pain.  Ironically, from strictly artistic point of view, the beauty of this record can be attributed to the fact that she was able to tap into the pain she was experiencing in her life.  Sadly, this is often the case with art in general, we indirectly benefit from the artist’s personal misfortunes, because let’s face it: no emotion inspires like pain, and therefore, we have to cherish anyone who’s willing to share theirs. 

Besides the heart-breaking vocal performance, I’m completely blown away by the string arrangements which are courtesy of the legendary Ray Ellis and the horn section provides that vintage feel to the overall composition.

Lady Day forever.

Title: I’m a fool to want you

Artist: Billie Holliday

Album: The Lady in Satin, 1958


“Ai Du” by Ali Farka Toure & Ry Cooder

In the spirit of properly representing my Malian roots, it’s only right that the first gem I showcase be 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….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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