A Malian's Musings about Music and Mali…
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“Paulette” by Balla et ses Balladins

“Balla est ses Balladins” was Guinea’s first major musical group of the post colonial era.  Like many of their West African contemporaries, they were sponsored by their country’s government in the 1960s as a means of promoting culture through art in a newly independent country.

The band’s leader Balla Onivogui died in March 2011 at the age of 75, before J Cole brought his music back to life a couple of months later with his summer hit “Can’t Get Enough”, which extensively samples vocals and guitar riffs from “Paulette”.

Although “Paulette” sticks to its African roots by employing almost exclusively native instruments, you can feel a distinctively Cuban influence in its cadence, vocal arrangements and guitar work.


Title: Paulette / Artist: Balla et ses Balladins / Album: Objectif Perfection, 1980

“Amour a Mort” by Les Nubians

“Si l’amour meurt, alors dit moi ce qu’il reste: des cases vides, des causes injustes, juste des gestes” 

When the love dies, tell me what’s left: only empty homes, unjust causes and meaningless gestures.


Title: Amour A Mort/ Artist: Les Nubians/ Album: One Step Forward, 2003

“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.


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

“Diarabi” by 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.

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.
I didn’t really give the song a chance until I was about 19 (15 years after the songs release) when 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.

Welcome to Mali.


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


“Pearls” by Sade

Part of the reason Sade’s legend is unquestioned, is that she never allowed her greatness to overshadow her humility.  This characteristic is evident in all of her music.

Sade deserves infinite praise for “Pearls”, simply because this type of song cannot be written by  someone who doesn’t believe in or truly “feel” its message.  The unfortunate reality of the lyrics is inescapable.  There’s so much suffering in the World we live in.  It is important to remain conscious of that.

One of the most powerful songs I’ve ever heard.

Title: Pearls

Artist: Sade

Album: Love Deluxe, 1992

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