02 May 2017

Two Dogons, an Aussie and Habib Koite, and I forgot my camera.

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One thing you should never underestimate in Mali is the opportunity to witness an amazing night of music. Luckily for a few of us from The Sleeping Camel on Friday night we were treated to a spectacular show and the only cost to us was the taxi fare there and back. A mate of the Camel’s is a cultural director for UNESCO in West Africa and through him we scored three free tickets to a private show at Moffou, Salif Keita’s live music venue in Kalaban. Assigue, Abdou and I set off without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. On arrival we were greeted at the gate by a friend from the Malian police force who informed us that Salif Keita was going to play. He was, I soon discovered, delightfully misinformed and apart from a huge poster of Salif staring down at us from behind the stage, he was never sighted. The evening was a promotional night for the Festival in the Desert and was staged for an advocacy group from Bono’s One International charity and the line-up for the evening was kept secret. The One International group are in West Africa to look at projects and will eventually return to the states and lobby for improved trade conditions and a reduction in duty charges for locally manufactured items like Shea products and traditional crafts such as Bogolan.

The first act was a traditional Tuareg group from Timbuktu who succeeded in getting the crowd nicely warmed up. After a short break we then got to see Moumino Diakite. She is a female singer in the mould of Oumou Sangare and really let rip with some powerful numbers. She also had two incredibly energetic female dancers. Abdou decided he really liked the music so he moved closer to the stage. The fact that his movement coincided with the appearance of the dancers had me suspicious that it was perhaps a little more than the music that had grabbed the petit Dogon’s attention.

After the Malian Diva left the stage we were faced with a 15 minute break and I was beginning to become a little fatigued but as I was chatting to some friends a familiar face suddenly appeared on stage. The band had been preparing for several minutes and we had no idea who was up next so when Habib Koite strolled on stage the pace of the night was set to really ramp up. I wandered over to the bar to grab a drink before he started and he had the same idea so for about 10 minutes a group of 6 of us chatted with Habib about life in Mali and on the road performing. He really is one of the most accessible artists I have ever come across and whilst sharing a beer he actually seems like he enjoys just hanging out and chatting. After we shook hands and said our farewells he left for the stage and produced a dazzling performance. He was not playing with his usual band so he took the opportunity to mix things up a bit and played some really cool variations on his older music.

After Habib finished I went to the washroom and on the way back walked straight into a startled Touareg guitarist. Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni from Tinariwen had flown down from Paris especially for the night and I had nearly knocked him over when exiting the wash room. Tinariwen were supposed to appear but they were on tour in Europe and got delayed in Paris. Abdallah told the crowd they didn’t want to totally let people down so he had done everything in his power to get there. He performed three songs with a bassist and a guy playing the calabash and even with just the three of them Abdallah managed to produce that unique Saharan sound that Tinariwen are famous for.
It had already been a great night and I was so happy we had managed to be involved but then Baba Salah and his band came on stage. He is not as well known as some Malian Artists outside of Mali but in his home country he is a legend based on his incredible live performances. His guitar playing is like Hendrix and the energy from his band even managed to drag me onto the dance floor. He performed a duet with Habib Koite and all the while Abdallah was giving the crowd dancing lessons. I wish he had taught my Dogon companions a new move or two.

As the night drew to a close I was struck with three very important thoughts –
1. If a cultural director from UNESCO offers you tickets to something then you sure as hell better go.
2. Always carry a camera. It’s not every day you get to dance with Habib Koite and a member of Tinariwen whilst listening to Baba Salah.
3. Contrary to local legends, not all Dogon’s can dance!

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