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Music in West Africa: Mali Part III

See Parts I and II for more great music from Mali.

This is the last post of the series featuring music from Mali. A few more gems from Northern Mali and then it will be on to Senegal. I think. Maybe. I realize that I have not mentioned Boubacar Traore, Salif Keita, or Baba Salah. That may just be unacceptable.


This is true Tuareg music from Northern Mali. Ibrahim Ag Alhabib started Tinariwen in the late 70’s. When he was four, he watched his father, a Tuareg rebel, get executed in front of him. Sometime after this, he built himself a guitar with a stick, a tin can, and bicycle brake wire. He was involved with the Tuareg uprising in Northern Mali in the early 90’s and he was also trained by the Libyan military when Gaddafi had dreams of building a Tuareg army in order to amass territory in West-Central Africa. Alhabib eventually turned his attention to music full time and the world is better for it.

These guys have toured internationally and they have played some of the largest festivals in the Western world. But don’t get it twisted, this music is as raw and authentic as anything.

Below is concert footage from Stockholm. Audio and video quality is not great, but it gives you a good sense of the kind of show they put on. Fast forward to 1:05 for better audio.

Khaira Arby

Khaira Arby is another Malian songstress with a booming voice. Like Oumou Sangare, she directs a lot of her creative energy towards gender inequality and women’s rights. Known alternately as the Queen of the Desert and the Diva of Timbuktu, she will capture your soul.

If you are going to SXSW this year, I would consider her performances there unmissable.

Samba Toure

Some years ago, Ali Farka Toure took Samba Toure under his wing, inviting him on tour and showing him the ways of mystical Songhai guitar music. Since Ali Farka’s death, Samba has recorded a considerable amount of music. His first album was called Songhai Blues: Homage to Ali Farka Touré. Indeed, if you have listened to Ali Farka, the tones and melodies here will be very familiar. But Samba offers a unique energy and his own, distinct voice.

Below is a more stripped down performance recorded live in Bamako in 2009.

And here is an extra treat. I posted about Ali Farka already (in part II of this series), but I need to share this video, which is really quite special. I think one reason I find Ali Farka’s music so compelling is that the melodies are often jubilant and melancholic simultaneously. This is true on “Kala Djula.” Beautiful accompaniment provided by Toumani Diabate on kora.

Next stop, Senegal?

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Ekua February 9, 2011, 1:16 am

    I would like to stress the importance of seeing musicians from Mali perform live in a great venue… I was practically weeping with joy when I heard Vieux Farka Toure do an awesome rendition of Ai Du at my favorite venue in SF. Thanks for sharing these musicians, I know of a lot of them, but there are definitely some new ones to add to my collection. Have you been to Festival au Desert yet? I am getting so anxious to check it out.

    • phil February 9, 2011, 1:44 am

      Ekua, YES. You are totally right. I have seen Vieux twice. His version of “Ai Du” is gorgeous. I spent time with him at his house when I was in Mali. That is so awesome that you have seen Malian musicians in concert!!! Festival au Desert is on my itinerary for next January, inshallah. B well, Phil

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 9, 2011, 11:37 am

    Just breathtaking!!!

    • phil February 13, 2011, 1:18 pm

      I agree 🙂

  • Jennifer Barry February 12, 2011, 11:41 pm

    Thanks for these links Phil! I am really enjoying this series. We don’t get much Malian music in Texas, mostly Latino. 😉 I think you’ve made a convert of my aunt, too.

    • phil February 13, 2011, 1:19 pm

      Awesome, glad you like them! And I’m loving that your aunt is getting into the music on my site! B well, Phil

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