Monolith Cocktail - Every Song Has Its End - Sonic Dispatches from Traditional Mali (2400)

Various   ‘Hidden Musics Vol 2.  Every Song Has Its End:  Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali’
Released by Glitterbeat Records,  1st  April  2016

Though no less an achievement, the second volume in Glitterbeat Records “Hidden Musics” series offers the full gamut not just musically but visually too, and is a far more ambitious documentation of a troubled country’s lost tradition than last years Hanoi Masters survey. Expanding to include 11 concatenate videos, Every Song Has Its End is the most complete purview of Mali’s musical roots yet. This is due to the project’s mastermind Paul Chandler, who has documented Mali’s music scene for more than a decade. With an enviable archive of recordings and interviews, Chandler has at last found the perfect testament to Mali’s past.


Thanks to labels like Glitterbeat, Mali’s contemporary artists, from the urban capital of Bamako to the conflict-ridden deserts of the north, have triumphed on the world music stage. Tinariwen, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, Amadou And Mariam and Vieux Farka Touré to name just a few of Mali’s most recent successful exports, may have given the impression that the country’s music scene was in ‘rude health’. Despite crossing-over with an electrified and dynamic style revision of Mail’s musical heritage, there is a general decline in the ancestral traditions that inform it.

Complex to say the least, the multiethnic and diverse state of Mali has, and is, suffering from an array of problems: economical, religious and generational. In scenes repeated throughout the world, local customs and rituals are disappearing as the rush to leave behind the agrarian life of the village for the city accelerates. Governed haphazardly from Bamako (one of the fastest expanding urban areas in all of Africa) by, at first, the reasonably stable Amadou Toumani Touré government, an ongoing embittered conflict that began nearly a century ago, and has flared up repeatedly over time, in the disputed territories of the Tuareg, spiraled into a full-on insurgency that not only toppled that administration but brought back the old colonial masters France.

The greatest crisis to implode in Mali for generations, the Tuaregs ongoing battle to control their own autonomous region, known as the Azawad, in the north of the country, saw the tribes gain a worrying momentum. The last “rebellion’ as the government of Mali calls it, lasted between 2007-2009 and was finally ended by a Libyan-backed peace treaty. Many of the Tuaregs subsequently left to join the Libyan army and fight in the calamitous civil war there. Aligned to Gaddafi, the Tuareg fractions returned to the north of Mali once the inevitable outcome of that bitter conflict became apparent. Dubious claims and information exists as to what happened next, but an invigorated campaign began in 2012, the Tuareg and allies suddenly tooled-up with an arsenal of heavy-duty weaponry. Under the banner of the MNLA (the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) they drew in old and new rebels and numerous disgruntled Malians, including deserters from the Malian army. Boosted and then hijacked, as it would turn out, by a shaky coalition with the hardline Ansar Dine and Al Queda In The Islamic Maghreb, they not only took control of the north but advanced on to the central and southern regions of Mali; infamously taking the revered ancestral seat of learning, Timbuktu. It should be pointed out at this time that the Tuareg were in favour of building a secular state, and so were at odds with the fundamentalist Islamic groups who wished to impose Sharia law throughout Mali. The only cause that united these ill-at-ease groups was their resistance against the Bamako government. Other than that, they shared no common ground at all in their struggles. Beating a ragtag, ill-served government army, and in the process destabilizing Amadou Toumani Touré’s stewardship, a coup de tat instigated by Amadou Sanogo plunged Mali into an even worse crisis. Yet despite seizing power from what he said was a weak government, Sanogo was unable to fare any better and was replaced himself by an interim government who called in France to help defend it against the, now, escalating terror of an extremist Islamic insurgency.

Kimsy Bocoum (credit Amsatou Diallo)

Kimsy Bocoum (credit Amsatou Diallo)

With such polar ideologies it wasn’t long before the MNLA and Ansar Dine began fighting each other. With the government forces beaten back and retreating, the north and central regions becoming a battleground between the two opposing sides, with the MNLA getting the worse of it. French troops had by now entered the fray and were steadily sweeping the rebels out of their conquered territories, now helped by the MNLA who viewed these dangerous groups as “terrorists” and were just as eager to defeat them. Far too complicated to conduce here, but an initial peace deal was struck on June 18th 2013, but was breached due to infringements – depending on which side you believe. A further ceasefire was announced and adhered to in February of 2015, though sporadic terrorist style attacks by Islamist militants persist, with the most recent being a hostage situation at the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, on the 20th November 2015.

Despite this destabilizing situation, most of the musicians in Paul Chandler’s video blame the politicians for instigating the almost cataclysmic divisions in Mali society. However, a fragile co-habitation exists, with distrust running deep between not just the ethnic groups but even among individuals in the same communities. War has displaced huge swathes of Mali; a country already coming to terms with the 21st century’s tumultuous shifts, motivated by the need to earn a decent wage, countless indigenous tribes have been pushed to the boundaries and even exile as their traditions meet head on with modernity. In the face of all this, music has become the unifying force in Mali. And in this documented survey you’ll see just how integral and important its position is in the healing process. The atavistic linage that underpins every musical style and orator, artisan, dancers and elder’s performance is investigated and shared generously.

Inna Baba Coulibaly (credit Amsatou Diallo)

Inna Baba Coulibaly (credit Amsatou Diallo)

No one typifies this relationship with the past more than Afel Bocoum, whose sagacious deliberations both opens the accompanying video collection and is quoted throughout. Profound, informative, Chandler couldn’t have found a better subject to bring a poetic relevance to the project with. Bocoum reveals the roots of the violin like Sokou and its “Satan” properties: meant not in the sense of an evil force but as a supernatural spirit for good, able to emote emotions from the coldest of souls. We can hear its increasingly distraught weeping resonant draw on the ‘Nianju Wardè’ recording, which features both Bocoum and Hama Sankare interpreting what’s known as a “Peul Seygalaré” style song, from the Niafunke and Timbuktu regions.

Following a different projection, moving from east to the southwest, the audio collection differs in the journey it sets out on. The opening earthy desert pants of the female vocal ensemble, Group Ekanzam, are broadcast from the Gao region in the northwest. “Celebration” music sung to a stark backing of Tindé, Water Calabash and handclapping it sounds almost otherworldly, transcendent even. The visual documentation adds context with the “black Tamashek” nomads lamenting the loss of trust, tradition and harmony, whilst the womenfolk sing in the background. Not quite a matriarchal society, the women’s virtues hymns of peace and recoil of violence are nevertheless adhered to.

Other Gao delights include the throaty rustic vocals and delta blues fever of the Tehardent (a lute like instrument) led ‘Taganraratt’ by the Group Tagout, and the amplified, bordering on embittered raw punk, Songhai dusty rock boogie ‘Houmeïssa’, by Super Onze.

Travelling towards the centre of Mali, we’re introduced to the wavering diaphanous harp tones of Boukader Coulibaly’s 6-string Danh, on the “Bambara voyagers” style adventurer’s song ‘Takakadi’, and the convoluting Sokou and N’goni ‘N’Djaba’ love paean by Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate. Curiously this later ballad, also in the “Bambara” style, sounds strikingly Oriental, almost Vietnamese – a coincidental scion perhaps or congruous link back to the inaugural “Hidden Musics” volume Hanoi Masters.

Ibrahim Traore (credit Amsatou Diallo)

Ibrahim Traore (credit Amsatou Diallo)

Traversing the south and western reaches of Mali, Kassoun Bagayoko, backed by the strange sounds of the Balafon, in the old style of the traditional “cultivator” song, amorphously weaves his way through ‘Kabako’. Accompanied with heartfelt resignation in the film, the “hunters” tribute ‘Donzo Fasa’ by Sidiki Coulibaly is played on the Malinké hunter’s harp: the revered instrument that gave his native Mandé country its reputation. Used not just in praise but also to hype-up and give bravado to those hunters who successfully killed a water buffalo or lion, this guarded instrument and song is entwined in the culture but fast disappearing.

Striking home the often-bloody foundations of Mali’s instruments, Ibrahim Traoré morbidly enlightens us to the sacrificial blessed history of the Bolon –a sonorous vibrating recording of which close the album. Another member of the Mali and West African harp family, the Bolon was once, literally, splattered with the blood of the Mandé warrior kings enemies. Traoré donning the traditional dress shrugs as he reassures on the film that the songs of praise, beheadings, enslavements and other accords merited by the fabled warrior have long since died out.


Taken in isolation, each visceral earnest audio recording rightly stirs the emotions. But it is the 90-minute film that reveals the most complete picture. Left to tell their stories unburdened by the filmmaker, Chandler and his crew have edited the sequence of short films so that you only hear and see the Malians. With no obvious prompting or intervention, the scenes remain unfussy and honest; each subject engaged and unguarded – and in the example of Ibrahim Traoré, moved to tears. Clichéd as it sounds; this “labour of love” panoply is just that. It offers a perspicacious but in-depth survey that chronicles the forgotten and unknown ancestry of Mali’s rich musical heritage before its lost. Every Song Has Its End is a not only entertaining but an essential educational and archival tool, which will hopefully tackle the disappearance of those grand traditions and keep the old sounds alive.

Words:  Dominic Valvona

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