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       "Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom.  If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."

 Charlie Parker



 News Updates   2017

 

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January ... 2017  On December 1st 2016 Adama Barrow was elected to the Presidency. The explosion of music and culture amongst the young has led to The  Gambia becoming a developing Republic with reform and great confidence in it's future. We shall continue to follow this process!


January ... 2016 It is 10 years ago exactly that Musicman 1 was born on a Red Toshiba Laptop....in Bakau. It stands complete as an archive of my research. The Bibliotheque and the Video Archive are full; too full. The Mango Tree of Knowledge! Thanks to you all! We shall add items of extraordinary subjects...by the bye!


October ... 2015 

Forests are the largest storehouse of carbon after the oceans. However, when forests are destroyed by activities such as logging and agriculture, they release large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The Upper Guinean Rainforest, with its unique biodiversity is regarded by the World Conservation Organization (IUCN) as one of the world’s 25 “hotspots of biodiversity”. These “hotspots” only cover 1,4 % of the earth’s surface but they contain more than 60 % of all animal and plant species to be found on this planet. This is why they have the highest priority for long-term international conservation efforts.

The “hotspot” Upper Guinean Rainforest is home to six monkey species that are listed amongst the world’s 25 most endangered primate species, as well as many other rare animal species. The Upper Guinean Rainforest constitutes a 350 km wide strip of coastal forest area that stretches from Sierra Leone through Liberia, Ivory Coast and on to Ghana. In Ghana the Volta River marks the boundary of this forest area. In Ivory Coast there is a v-shaped section, the “Baoule-V”, which separates the Upper Guinean Rainforest into eastern and western parts.

In the eastern area of the Upper Guinean Rainforest there are several endemic animal species including the Western Black and White Colobus (Colobus polykomos), the Lesser Spot-nose Monkey (Cercopithecus cephus petaurista), Zebra Duiker (Cephalophus zebra), Liberian Mongoose (Liberiictis kuhni), Diana Guenon (Cercopithecus diana) and White-naped Mangabey (Cercocebus atys lunulatus).

Guinean rainforest

This months music is from Lame Sidibe. Here. Alongside the Mandinka music that can be traced back to the 13th century Soninke, Almoravid, Soso and Mansa Musa kingdoms in Western Mali and Southern Niger/Nigeria, there is also the Pula/Fula  music that has an equally historical tradition.

 




While their early habitat in West Africa was apparently in an area in the vicinity of the borders of present-day Mali, Senegal and Mauritania, the Fulani are now, after centuries of gradual migrations and conquests, spread throughout a wide band of West and Central Africa. The Fulani People occupy a vast geographical expanse located roughly in a longitudinal East-West band immediately south of the Sahara, and just north of the coastal rain forest and swamps, although situations have changed a lot in recent times, and, a sizable proportion of Fulani people now live in the heavily forested zones to the south, in countries like Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, Guinea, The Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Various Fulɓe sub-groups are now found well within the forested southern quarter of West and Central Africa. Fulani music is as full of rich oral tradition as Mandinka, and both ethnic groups have made a substantial impact on West African development.




September ... 2015 

Kankan was founded by the Mandinka people in the 17th century after which it became an important trading centre, particularly for kola nuts, and the capital of the Baté Empire. The population of the city is predominantly from the Mandinka ethnic group and their language is widely spoken throughout the city.

The French explorer René Caillié spent a month in Kankan in 1827 on his journey from Boké, in present day Guinea, to Djenné and Timbuktu in Mali. He arrived with a caravan transporting kola nuts. He described the visit in his book Travels through Central Africa to Timbuctoo. The town had a population of 6,000 inhabitants and was an important commercial centre with a market held three times a week. Instead of having a surrounding mud wall, the town was defended by a quickset hedge. The chief of the town refused Caillié permission to travel along the river to the north as the town of Kankan was fighting for control of the Bouré gold producing area around Siguiri and the Tinkisso River. Instead Caillié left the town heading east in the direction of Minignan in the Ivory Coast.The town was conquered by Samory Touré in 1881 and occupied by the French in 1891.

Sory Kandia Kouyate is featured Here at Video Views. Kandia was born in 1933 in the small town of Manta, in the Bodie prefecture part of the city of Dalaba, over 400 km from the capital Conakry. He was two years old when his mother died. This was the mark of the death of his life. Later he composed for her, '' N'nah 'language Malinke' 'mother' ', one of his most beautiful songs.

 




August ... 2015  On the Eastern edge of the Futa Jalon in the Guinean savannah region is a town called Siguiri. This is close to the source of the river Niger and the Malian border. It is from this region that Sekouba Bambino's music originates. He was born in the village of  Kintinya close to the Malian border, and his music truly reflects the heritage that has not only survived the centuries in Guinea, but also crossed the ocean and has greatly influenced the music of South America and the Caribbean. Sekouba is featured Here at Video Views this month

 






Interestingly enough when you search on Kankan, the largest town in the Savannah region, up pops the Gospel Soca music of Trinidad! Here is the original 80's version of the Kankan music of Guinea!








And here is a Trinidadian Kankan Gospel Soca.










July ... 2015

No apologies for putting the late Saidou Sow in Video Views Here this month. Like his Malian counterpart Salif Keita, Saidou Sow was born an albino and blessed with a divine voice. This was tempered in the crucible of his life, lived in extraordinary hardship. He passed in 2009 leaving a legacy of work that is full of all of the Guinean flavours that are so visible in South America and the Caribbean.

 





The interior of Guinea Conakry is known as the Savannah region of Futa Jallon.

Guinea's complex history reflects the diversity of its geographic zones. In the early eighteenth century, Islamic Peul migrants arrived in the Futa Jallon, displacing the ancestors of the Susu, who pushed westward to the coast and encroached on the lands and settlements of coastal peoples, including the Baga and the Landoma. Over the next two centuries, the Susu gained control of the coast by building a series of small states based on clan and town affiliation. The Susu supported themselves by fishing and trading with Europeans. They traded locally produced goods such as beeswax and hides as well as slaves for European cloth, arms, and other manufactured goods. The region participated in but was not a major contributor to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

In the Futa Jallon, the Peuls constructed a centralized theocratic Muslim state. Two families, the Soriyas and the Alfayas, headed the government of the Futa Jallon. Male members of those families occupied the position of Almamy, or leader, for alternating terms of two years. The Futa Jallon was divided into nine diwals, or provinces, and people supported themselves through cattle herding, farming, and trade. Slaves lived in small hamlets and did most of the heavy labor.

The savanna of West Africa has been the site of great Maninka kingdoms since the eighth century. The exploits of Sundiata, the builder of the Mali Empire in the thirteenth century, are still recounted by griots, or bards, throughout Upper Guinea. Islam also has played an important role in Upper Guinea's history. In the seventeenth century, Muslim migrants came to the banks of the Milo River and formed the small city-state of Baté, with the town of Kankan as its capital. Baté emerged as an enclave of Islam and became a magnet for Muslim traders and scholars. Slaves supported agricultural and commercial activities. Animist Maninka populations tended to have fewer slaves, whom they incorporated into the household. Slaves owned by Maninka Muslims often resided in separate farming villages.

In the Forest Region, political and social affiliations functioned on a small scale because of the density and fragility of the rain forest. Because the ecosystem could not support large population centres, the forest's populations lived in dispersed villages of about one hundred to two hundred people. These villages, often situated on the top of a high hill, could be moved or replaced easily in response to environmental challenges or warfare. The forest stimulated isolated independence. Islam did not make significant inroads in this area.

Kankan, the capital of the Bate region, is famous for the world renowned Mamaya dance which many people come to celebrate as part of the post Ramadan Tabaski celebration. Situated on the Milo river,  the Universite of Kankan was established in 1968 after the Julis Nyerere Normal School that preceded it, and was turned into a national university in affiliation with the Gamal Abdel Nasser University in Conakry.

 



Mamaya Dance


June ... 2015 

The origin of the word "Guinea" is unclear. The name came into use among European shippers and map makers in the seventeenth century to refer to the coast of West Africa from Guinea to Benin. Some Guineans claim that the word arose from an early episode in the European-African encounter. In Susu, the language spoken by the coastal Susu ethnic group, the word guinè means "woman." When a group of Europeans arrived on the coast they met some women washing clothes in an estuary. The women indicated to the men that they were women. The Europeans misunderstood and thought the women were referring to a geographic area; the subsequently used the word "Guinea" to describe coastal West Africa.

The French claimed the coast of present-day Guinea in 1890 and named it French Guinea ( Guinée française ) in 1895. Neighbouring colonies also bore the name "Guinea." The British colony of Sierra Leone to the south was sometimes identified as British Guinea, and to the north, Portugal's colony was named Portuguese Guinea.

Guinea is located on the west coast of Africa, and is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Its area is 94,930 square miles (245,857 square kilometers). There are four geographic zones. The coastal maritime region is filled with mangrove swamps and alluvial plains that support palm trees. Lower Guinea receives heavy rains, and Conakry is one of the wettest cities in the world. The coastal belt is home to one of the country's dominant ethnic groups, the Susu, and to many smaller groups, such as the Baga, Landoma, Lele, and Mikiforé. Other important towns include the bauxite mining centers of Fria and Kamsar.

In the interior is the Futa Jallon. This mountainous region has cool temperatures, allowing for the cultivation of potatoes. The Niger, Senegal, and Gambia rivers originate in the Futa Jallon. Many other streams and waterfalls run through this area's rocky escarpments and narrow valleys. The Fulbe ethnic group, also referred to as Peul, is the major population group. Smaller ethnic groups include the Jallonke and the Jahanke. Labé is the largest city, and the town of Timbo was the region's capital in the precolonial era.

To the east of the Futa Jallon is Upper Guinea, a savanna region with plains and river valleys. The Milo and Niger rivers are important for fishing, irrigation, and transportation. Most of the population consists of members of the Maninka ethnic group. Siguiri and Kankan are the major cities, and there are many smaller agricultural settlements in the countryside. Kankan sometimes is referred to as the nation's second capital, although in recent years it has been dwarfed in size by cities in southern Guinea.

The southernmost region is Forest Region. Rainfall is heavy, and the area is dense with rain forests with mahogany, teak, and ebony trees. Agricultural exploitation and the demand for tropical hardwoods have increased the rate of deforestation. Many valuable resources are found, including gold, diamonds, and iron ore. Larger ethnic groups include the Guerzé, Toma, and Kissi. Since the early 1990s the Forest Region has had a substantial rise in population as refugees from wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone have flooded over the border and doubled the size of the towns of Gueckedou, Macenta, and N'Zerekoré.

Almost half of the population is under the age of fifteen. This generation has known only the rule of the second president, Conté, who came to power in 1984 and is still in office. Fifteen percent of the country was born while the first president, Touré, ruled from 1958 to 1984; only 12 percent of the population witnessed colonial rule.

Many Senegalese merchants, artisans, and tailors live in the country, and they are joined by foreign nationals from other African countries. Some of these are refugees, others come seeking opportunities in Guinea. A substantial number of Europeans and Americans reside in Conakry, most of whom work for embassies and development organizations. Expatriates also live in the mining towns of Fria and Kamsar (bauxite) and Siguiri (gold). An economically influential Lebanese population conducts commerce in the cities. A tiny group of Korean immigrants operates photo development shops in Conakry.



Guinea



May ... 2015  Of all the countries in West Africa whose music I have been listening to, and studying for over 20 years now, Guinea is by far the most mysterious; the gift that just keeps on giving! Here is another extraordinary fusion of the traditional and modern!

 

 






The Guinean Balafon surfaced in Guatemala in 1592 as the Marimba. Carried across the oceans, the music began it's long fertile insemination of the Americas. The swing feel has developed into the Samba in South America, the Salsa in the Caribbean and is most definitely the ol' grandaddy of Ska, Minto and Bluebeat, which of course have become global influences known collectively as Reggae! From the polyrhythmic Gumbe of Bissau to the nationalistic state sponsored bands of Conakry, the music is full of its own history!

From the 12th. century onwards, what is now Guinea was on the fringes of the major West African empires. The Ghana Empire is believed to be the earliest of these which grew on trade but contracted and ultimately fell due to the hostile influence of the Almoravids. It was in this period that Islam first arrived in the region. The Sosso kingdom (12th to 13th centuries) briefly flourished in the void but the Islamic Mandinka Mali Empire came to prominence when Soundiata Kéïta defeated the Sosso ruler, Soumangourou Kanté at the semi-historical Battle of Kirina in c. 1235. The Mali Empire was ruled by Mansa (Emperors), the most famous being Kankou Moussa, who made a famous hajj to Mecca in 1324. Shortly after his reign the Mali Empire began to decline and was ultimately supplanted by its vassal states in the 15th century. The most successful of these was the Songhai Empire, expanding its power from about 1460, and eventually surpassing the Mali Empire in both territory and wealth. It continued to prosper until a civil war over succession followed the death of Askia Daoud in 1582. The weakened empire fell to invaders from Morocco at the Battle of Tondibi just 3 years later. The Moroccans proved unable to rule the kingdom effectively, however, and it split into many small kingdoms. The Futa Jallon and Wassoulou kingdoms followed, and sustained the musical traditions until the French finally penetrated the region in the mid-19th century! Maninka and Fula music were carried along the trade routes, in particular the rivers Gambia and Niger, which at their closest are only 400 kilometres apart, and form a 3000 kilometre track that arches across West Africa from the Bay of Guinea and the Niger delta to the Gambia river estuary on the Atlantic coast. The Balafon and Kora were two of many instruments that were carried along these routes, and are still played. Perhaps it is the mountainous region, so impenetratable to outsiders, and the source of the river Niger that accounts for such a fertile culture that survives to this day.

Here is this months Video Views. Enjoy.


April ... 2015 

More than a year after Ebola began spreading in West Africa, public-health authorities are struggling most to stop it in the country where it began. The epidemic, so explosive last summer and fall, has been contained to a coastal area around and between the capital cities of Guinea and Sierra Leone. But the number of new cases is still staggering for an Ebola outbreak—82 in the week ended March 29, according to the World Health Organization. Most are in Guinea, where the first cases of the deadly disease were diagnosed in March 2014. Guinea closed the border with Sierra Leone this week to try to stamp out the remaining epidemic. The number of cases in Sierra Leone is declining.

Health workers confront many of the same obstacles in Guinea now that they did last year, though this time on the other end of the country. Fearful, suspicious locals drive Ebola workers away. Some care for their sick loved ones at home, or bury highly infectious corpses with their own hands, despite warnings that the deadly virus spreads through bodily fluids. “There’s a lot of resistance,” said Raphaël Delhalle, field coordinator in Conakry for Doctors Without Borders, on a recent afternoon, just after the humanitarian aid group had admitted more than 10 patients for treatment. “The population is still thinking Ebola doesn’t exist, or that we are giving them Ebola.” Recently, he said, a woman in a Conakry neighborhood pulled a knife on a medical team, including a Doctors Without Borders staff member, forcing them to leave.

Officials say they are confident they will rid West Africa of the epidemic. But to do that, they will have to overcome persisting resistance in communities and track down every last case. Guinea is especially important: It is the largest of the three most heavily affected countries, a gateway to much of West Africa, bordering six countries. Liberia appeared to have extinguished the epidemic in early March, when the person with its last known case was released from a clinic. But those hopes were shattered later in the month when a woman was diagnosed with and then died of the disease, setting off a scramble to find and monitor all those who had contact with her.

And so to the Music.  Sekou Bembeya Diabate is featured at Video Views Here  The Guinean Swing has been influencing the music of the Caribbean since the 16th century.

 









March ... 2015 Finally the Ebola numbers are falling.....and stabilisation seems to be an appropriate description! Travel restrictions in West Africa have been lifted and the fear that this terrible disease brought with it is finally receding.

Let us get straight to the music. Salif Keita is still the voice that expresses it best. Here

 

 

This invokes the spirit of two of the world's most passionate human rights workers.

 

 

Next month we will look at Guinea, and how the country is recovering it's balance, it's culture and it's music!


February ... 2015  It is fair to say that until the colonial period began to impact on West Africa, the Balafon and Kora developed in an untainted way; pure music that can be traced back to the Mansa Musa empire of the 14th. century. French influences can be seen to have directly affected the music of Senegal. Swing Jazz and post 1940s arrangements brought the synthesis of American music and West African music to give birth to Mbalax and Ndaga. In Mali, the Blues was embraced by both Northern Tuareg tribes and Southern Sahel Kora players. In Guinea the Balafon and Swing influence has produced an extraordinary Guitar ensemble-based music that has crossed the ocean and surfaced in Caribbean music! This month we look at Malian Blues influences on the indigenous Kora music.

It is now 20 years since I first heard  Toumani Diabate's music.  The sound of the Kora immediately captured my ear and my heart.  Having written and  tried to play Jazz arrangements for the Welsh harp, the sound was immediately recognisable. I also understood that this music was taking me to the source, the heartland. Now Toumani is 49 years old, has matured into playing the best music of his life, and has his son Sidike alongside him. Here is Toumani live playing Cantelowes at El Real Alcazar in 2008.





And here is Toumani Diabate playing at Glastonbury with his son Sidike in 2014






January ... 2015  Where to begin? Over the lifetime of Musicman 1 we have reported on the music and cultural practice of West Africa. As far back as Mansa Musa's 14th century empire, the Kora and Balafon can be seen to be the instruments of choice for Griot and Jali families at Palaces and at Court for the entertainment of the ruling ethnic groups. History has preserved these practices to the present day. They were undoubtedly carried across the 3000 miles of ocean with the trade in slaves and the uprooting of 15 million people. The countries surrounding The Gambia river estuary, Mali, Senegal and Guinea have all contributed significantly to the development of 20th century American music in this way. Indeed there is a word in Wollof - Jahass. Literally translated it means "throw it all in there"  "shake it up" "party time" "make some noise"

After the Black Codes of 1898, Louisiana was sold back to the Americans by the French. Creoles were reclassified as Black overnight. Their fancy French education meant that they brought educated musical practice to their consummation with itinerant slaves, now freed, who within 15 years were playing music with their freedom to actually own an instrument. Mix in a little military syncopated drumming, the quadrille, and the freedom to shake up a little Jahass began to produce a variety of music around the Mississippi Delta. These were the roots of both Blues and Jazz.

It is a historical fact that the Balafon, rooted in Guinea, surfaced 3000 miles away in Guatemala in 1592 as the Marimba! Academics are currently connecting pidgeon language found in Cuba to the antecedents of ethnic groups found in Sierre Leone. One of the highlights of my work in Brikama in The Gambia was an American student of the Kora who announced with great joy "Gee Paul....when I play the Kora...I can hear Motown"

Anecdotal the evidence may be...but Musicians see with their ears! There can be only one conclusion to the whole investigation. The cultural practices that developed for 500 years in West Africa were so deeply ingrained in the soul of the ethnic groups who had been transported, that once instruments became available  in a fledgeling America, these practices were indeed used to produce an almighty Jahass!

Now I appreciate that it requires a fairly in-depth knowledge of 20th. century American music, and an equally in-depth study of West African musical development to put this picture together, but as modern Philosophers concur, you can only doubt something from a background of certainty. Otherwise it just would not exist! And there are new pieces of the picture emerging all the time. Recent discoveries in Babylonian culture Here reveal an instrument striking in its resemblance to the Kora, which of course can be seen as a cousin of the Celtic harp! It is Pythagoras with his imprisonment in Greece, and his mathematical interpretation of musical developments since 3000 BC, who could reasonably be held accountable for the history of the world being reduced to a "whites only" developmental model, becoming the bedrock of the racism that has engulfed the plant for 2000 years! There is no question that Babylonian influences travelled  directly across the trade routes to Africa. As previously noted, the Phoenicians can be placed along The Gambia river in 3000 BC.

 

 

Just to complicate things, we now have an Ebola outbreak that is all around the southern edge of the Senegal, Mali, Guinea and The Gambia quartet of cultural oases. So let us begin the year with a prayer for the peoples of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  There is an update Here.

 





And let us start the New Year by examining current practice, and contemplating how we got here! Fatoumata Diawara, born in Cote D'Ivoire, and playing the music of her Malian parents, is here working with Roberto Fonseca, a Cuban Jazz piano player. Now remember that Jazz has only been developing for 100 years, has been examined by musicologists around the world, and has an approach to harmony that is unique to its genre! When blended with its African antecedent, the result is simply magnificent. You can begin to hear who influenced whom! Enjoy!


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