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Bamako Balani Shows: Streetside Music, Theater and Dance

Please read this post if you haven’t already. I’m about to talk about block parties in Bamako, but there is still a refugee crisis in the Sahel.

A few weeks ago I spent an evening on the most crowded street corner of the quinzambougou neighborhood in Bamako. Chris from Sahel Sounds had invited me to a balani show organized by Kaba Blon, one of the acts on his label.

From the paved road to the dark car-less side streets, vague directions were offered. I was lost, redirected, finally standing on a trail of extension cords that led to a circled crowd.

At first, a balani show seems like nothing more than an organized block party. Look closer and you can see that it’s the urban adaptation of a village balafon show. In the villages, money is pooled and parties are organized. A balafon (wooden xylophone) ensemble keys the event, but there are typically many components including storytelling, dance, and Mali’s traditional MC, the griot.

In Bamako, the griot is the Dj, the live instruments have been subbed for computers and a PA system, and skinny jeans have taken the place of bogolan cloth. But the spirit is the same.

Warming up the crowd with a comedy routine.

Kaba Blon performing acapella. You’ll notice that several of the ladies in the crowd are quite taken with these gentlemen.

This dance troupe turned themselves into a land octopus and then, well, you can watch for yourself.

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For all of Bamako’s high profile musicians and established music venues, there is also a creative spirit that is more democratic and accessible. For a couple of hours, a balani show transforms the street into a stage and a playground. Even if my head hadn’t been swimming in terrible gin, I would have enjoyed this.

I will now leave for Segou to attend Festival sur le Niger. Once more, if you have a moment, check out the previous post for a couple of ways that you can lend a hand with Mali’s (still growing) refugee situation.

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