Ten hours before Mah won the award, I had the pleasure of meeting her. After a guitar lesson, Lamine Soumano drove me out on his motorcycle to buy a ticket of my own to the ceremony, and we picked up Mah’s entry badge while there.
Mah came to pick up her badge, and thanks to a stellar introduction by Lamine and a quick cell phone number exchange, I found myself sitting right behind Mah at the ceremony for the Nuit du Tamani D’Or’s, which is Mali’s version for the Grammy’s. The ceremony was held outside, and orange light beamed down upon us. It was a pleasantly cold night for Mali, about 65 degrees or so, and people around me, dressed in their finest shirts, hats, suits and dresses, visibly shivered in the night. The host, a comedian, made routine jokes about the cold before thanking the sponsors.
Mah’s award came very early on in the night. Other notable award winners included Habib Koité (Best Male Artist) and Penzy (Best Rap Artist). The award for Best Video went to reggae artist Koko Dembélé, whose videos I have ironically not been able to find online! But the big winner of the night was the beautifully dressed Babani Koné, who won TWO awards, Best Female Artist as well as the big prize, the Tamani d’Or du Meilleur Artist Malien de l’Année (Artist of the Year). Way to go, Babani! She joins the ranks of such prestigious acts as Salif Keita (winner – 2006) and Oumou Sangare (winner – 2004).
Check out Mah’s video here. Her producer, Paul Chandler, is hard at work on her soon-to-be-released international debut album, which will feature ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyaté and will be available online when ready on the Studio Mali website. And while you’re at it, check out a fun video of Penzy ft. Habib Koite here.
So far, my research in Mali started slow but has been slowly gaining momentum since. My main problem is that there’s always so much happening, so many shows and so many people active and moving in the scene that trying to be a part is exhausting and can feel unworkable at times. At least it did when I first arrived.
For the past two months, I spent the time in between big events getting myself trained and up to speed. I’ve been taking lessons to learn some of the basics of how to speak Bambara, the language predominantly spoken in Bamako and in other parts of the country; improving my ever-necessary French, which has gotten much better; and absorbing everything I can, whether by spending time with musicians playing guitar or reading up about Malian politics.
As a special treat, I have a video from Lamine Soumano and Aicha Kouyate. The video, “Ca va la-bas”, was filmed in Germany. It’s great, so check it out!
Sorry for the long gap in updates, but definitely expect more soon, as it’s festival season over here in Mali: both the increasingly-popular Festival au Desert and the Festival sur le Niger are this month! Unfortunately, I’ve had to cancel my plans to make it to the festival in the desert, as the security situation in the north of the country has shifted in the past couple of weeks. Tensions between certain Touaregs (one of the ethnic groups here, predominantly in northern Mali) and the military have escalated into an attack on a military outpost in the town of Nampala, leaving 9 soldiers dead. In response, on January 2, the army launched a counteroffensive, and things have continued to develop from there. I got a call on New Years Eve from the US Embassy strongly urging me not to head North for the festival, and I have decided to heed their advice. I’ve begun to monitor the situation closely, as themes of democracy, development, and Touareg rebellion are all very closely linked in the history of Mali. As I’ve found my interest piqued, I’m planning on writing more frequent, shorter pieces, probably more in the style of field notes than updates. Let me know if you think that’s a good idea!
On a different, final, note, a few weekends ago I made it out West to the city of Kayes for the opening ceremony for this year’s Biennale festival. It was huge, filling the giant stadium at Kayes, and both the President and Minister of Culture of Mali were in attendance. I’ll be writing something more about the festivals soon, but for now I’ll leave you with a few fun pictures, one of the Biennale welcome banner, one of the mysterious Biennale mascot on parade in the stadium, and one of a pillar in Kayes decorated with flyers to President Amadou Toumani Touré (otherwise known as A.T.T.).