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Mali Music


2015 repress; originally released in 2002. In July 2000, Damon Albarn travelled to Mali for Oxfam's On the Line project, which focused on people living along the Greenwich Meridian. He seized the chance to meet and play with the Malian musicians whose recordings he loved, and to exchange ideas with them in their own backyard. Albarn's chosen instrument was a battered melodica. His musical encounters were leisurely, low-key, and immersive, as natural and spontaneous as could be. Touring the capital, Bamako, and its surrounding villages, he sat in on club and private jam sessions, playing concerts and street corners, bars and boats. He hooked up with practically any musician he came across, from enthusiastic amateurs to such master-musicians as Toumani Diabaté, Lobi Traoré, Afel Bocoum, Kassé Mady Diabaté, and the only female ngoni player in Mali, Ko Kan Ko Sata. "One of my favourite memories is Les Escrocs playing a party at Toumani's house," says Albarn. "Bass and drums doing dead funky Malian reggae, with them in shell-suits and patent-leather shoes doing a kind of feminised ragga version of the James Brown shimmy." The tapes kept on running, for more than 40 hours, capturing the volatile collage of sound that would become Mali Music. Back home in Albarn's London studio, the recordings took a few more spins. In line with their original inherent diversity, some make nods to reggae, house, rock, raga, and some stay just as they are. The bass playing of Junior Dan emerges with a unifying authority that recalls his years with Augustus Pablo. Then the tapes returned to Mali, for further contributions from the musicians there. "My idea is to set up loads of dialogues between this music and other music that I love," says Albarn. "I'm sick of the cultural self-assurance you get in the West. I want to get everyone into Malian music."