I have arrived in Mali! The red earth, the bustling traffic of taxis and mopeds zipping around town, the music blaring from corner radios, and the beautiful River Niger welcomed me in to the capital city, Bamako, where I’ll be spending the next 7 months.
After a whirlwind three weeks of visiting my family and friends and after a series of increasingly painful goodbyes, I took off on a series of flights that took me San Francisco – Atlanta – Dakar – Bamako.
Everything went smoothly until I dropped my big suitcase on my foot in Dakar. So, waiting for the flight to Bamako with a throbbing lump on my foot and sadly realizing that I had left my ice pack back behind in Berkeley, I watched the sun rise through the airport windows over the runway, and I did what I could to keep myself fully awake, snacking on carrots, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, and Rolo’s. From the final plane, 24 hours after I had left San Francisco, I watched the River Niger below as beautiful Bamako slowly grew before me in the distance.
When I was planning my trip, I had high hopes of dashing off the plane, buying a cell phone, and immediately getting in touch with some of my contacts. Instead, I decided to give myself some time to get my bearings and rest. Luckily, that night, my plans changed again when I was invited to the very excellent Studio Mali to hear a bit of a piece being mixed down. And the day after, I was generously given a couple of tickets to see a percussion concert at the French Cultural Center here in Bamako.
I recently obtained my official research clearance through the Centre Mutual de la Recherche Scientifique et Technologique, the governing body of research in Mali. With that letter of authorization, I have a great introduction to academics and musicians alike, and I’m hoping it will help me get over soon to consult with some of the professors at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiérs et Multimedia de Bamako, the university where some of the big name musicians here teach, including Grammy Award winner Toumani Diabaté.
But first, let me explain a bit more about my project. See, Mali has had a thriving music scene for a very long time now with many diverse styles of music thriving around the country including a 2000 year-old tradition of griot music.
Politics in Mali have changed drastically in the past 20 years, with the country making a transition from socialism to democracy in 1991. With the changes in the political scene and with the introduction of new technologies and international influences coming through development projects and neoliberal policies, the music of Mali is under a tremendous amount of influence. I came here to see how much things are changing, what factors are affecting music production, what styles of music are coming and going, as well as what kinds of music are emerging and being released.
For the time being, I’m going to jump in by seeing concerts and spending time with musicians, producers, academics, and music teachers to get a sense of the topography of the multitude of things happening now. And from what I’ve seen in the past few days, there is definitely quite a lot happening!
I’ll leave you there for now, but I’ll definitely have more for you soon!