Music: Mali's Sahara Soul

Unity in Mali. Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre    

Unity in Mali.

Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre  

 

Music is fast becoming another victim of Mali's current crisis. While extremist groups in the country are enforcing a ban on music, London's Barbican Centre brought together some of Mali's finest musicians for their 'Sahara Soul' celebration at the end of January. Grammy Award nominated Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba, Southern Toureg band Tamikrest and Sidi Toure from Gao all refused to be silenced. Bassekou even titled his recent album "Jama Ko" which means unity in the time of crisis and stated that "We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali." 

Ngoni Ba- Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre    

Ngoni Ba- Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre  

 

Bassekou and his band Ngoni Ba are themselves revolutionaries, reinventing Mali's traditional folk music, using it to take us on a journey of Mali’s rich history and culture. A musical family, Bassekou was joined on stage by his wife on vocals and son who also impressed audiences with his charisma and nogia playing skills. Their latest album Jama Ko is out now featuring my favourite tracks of the night Jama Ko and Moustafa which they're performing now on their Europe tour

Ngoni Ba, Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre    

Ngoni Ba, Photography: Mark Allen, taken at The Barbican Centre  

 

Northern Tuareg group Tamikrest, whose twitter bio reads 'A desert hosts us, a language unites us, a culture binds us', also joined the stage with their fusion of traditional music with Western rock and pop. It didn't matter that all their songs were sung in the Tuareg language of Tamashek as the meaning was clear, and the atmosphere electric. The clothes were just as interesting to me as the music, and the traditional headwear, the Tagelmust, reminded me strongly of my Yemeni roots.  They have a busy year ahead on the festival circuit so catch them on tour while you can. 

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Tamikrest singer in collaboration with Bassekou. Photo taken by Mark Allen at The Barbican Centre. 

Tamikrest singer in collaboration with Bassekou. Photo taken by Mark Allen at The Barbican Centre. 

But the night couldn't be complete without Sidi Toure warming the audiences with his Songhai folk songs and hypnotising voice. Although separately each group was magnificent, their collaboration all together on stage was the most powerful, signifying the unity that all the musicians were calling for in their home country. 

Sidi Toure. Photographer: Mark Allan, taken at The Barbican Centre

Sidi Toure. Photographer: Mark Allan, taken at The Barbican Centre

Mali has an incredibly precious and rich musical history, the ngoni tunes of the night dancing the audience's emotions from tears to laughter to peaceful joy, where we hope Mali will also end up. For more information on events on music, film and theatre at The Barbican Centre check here. Also be sure to check out TIME Magazine's list of 8 musicians from Mali to check out now