Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Babel Med Music 2010: Oneira 6tet

So as I mentioned in the last post, during the day at Babel Med Music, there is an conference for international music professionals. During this time I wandered about the conference looking at different booths, sitting in on different panels, and having discussions with interesting creative people, munching little aperitifs, and taking in little mini-concert showcases that were happening around the conference hall.

Since Babel Med was being held in Marseille, there were special showcases in the afternoon of artists who come from the PACA region. PACA is the region in France where Marseille is located, it stands for Provence Alpes Cote d’Azure. The group Oneira 6tet, who combine Greek, Iranian and French musical traditions, was to me, the most impressive of the featured PACA Region artists (they are based near Marseille).

I recorded three of the songs they performed and this was the one that stuck out to me the most when I reviewed my footage... I love the lead singer’s warbling voice and the way that there is a dialogue between her voice and the lyra (stringed instrument that is being played). After the performance, I was able to ask the lyra player a few questions about his instrument (I’m still searching for his name as it seems that he was a guest artist at this show—will add his info it ASAP). He explains some of the origins of the lyra, its importance as part of classical Ottoman music, and the technique with by which it is played. Enjoy!

p.s. This is my first attempt at shooting and editing my own footage with my little Flip camera... hope you like it!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stay Tuned for Posts About Babel Med Music in Marseille!

Hey everyone... just wanted to keep you up to date and let you know that I am soon to be posting a series of interviews/live footage/commentary taken during Babel Med Music in Marseille last weekend. Babel Med Music is an international music festival and professional conference that takes place every year in Marseille, France. This year since I'm teaching English not too far from Marseille, I decided to check it out. Over three days there was a gathering of thousands of international music professionals and 30 different awesome concerts open to the public every night. I was able to get in some great interviews with artists like Vieux Farka Toure from Mali, Amazigh from Algeria, Papa Wemba from DR Congo, and Mami Bastah from Madagascar along with other cool exchanges and interviews with people participating in the fest! Stay tuned for the updates! :-)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Layers of Meaning in Senegal: Yaye Fall Sisters Madelayne and Thioro Mbaye

I stumbled across this video on a friend’s facebook page and have since played it dozens of times... I just love the haunting melody, beautiful imagery and how much meaning is tied up in the clip! Although “Saliou Mbacke”, by Madelayne and Thioro Mbaye is only a six-minute music video, it contains many layers of meaning and illustrates important elements of Senegalese culture.

In Senegal about 95% of the population are Muslim, the majority practicing Sufism. Within this Sufi sect, there are a number of different subgroups. The primary subgroup is the Mouride Brotherhood. Members of this brotherhood follow the teachings of Cheikh Amadou Bamba, a religious leader and poet who lived during colonial times. While he wasn’t a direct adversary of the French, he challenged their rule non-violently, stating that the only superior he would ever obey is Allah. His teachings focused on hard work, prayer, and devotion, emphasizing the Prophet Muhammad’s saying “Work as if you’re going to live forever, pray as if you’re going to die tomorrow” and his message gained (and still has) an immense following. The French were so uneasy about Amadou Bamba’s profound influence on the Senegalese population (had he wanted to, he could have surely raised and army), that they exiled him from the country twice, once to Gabon from 1895-1902 and once to Mauritania from 1903-1907. This attempt to squelch his following, however, was completely fruitless and Mouride followers of Cheikh Amadou Bamba hold a prominent place in Senegalese Muslim society to this day. There is only one ever known photo taken of him and it has become iconic. The image of him wearing a white robe can be seen all over Senegal on everything from murals to minibuses to necklaces.

So what does he have to do with this song? Well, Seringe Saliou Mbacke, for whom the song is dedicated, was the fifth great Khalif (leader) of Mouridism and the last son of Cheikh Amadou Bamba. He is credited with developing Touba (a holy city for Mourides) from a small village into the second largest city in Senegal and also opening up many Islamic schools. He died in 2007 at the age of ninety-two and was buried in Touba. This song honors him and all of the advancements he made for Mourides and Senegalese people. His image along with the image of Cheikh Amadou Bamba can be seen fading into the background of some of the shots in this video.

Ok so... now we know that it’s a devotional song dedicated to Seringe Saliou Mbacke, one of the great leaders of the Mourides. But...there is yet another twist to this video...(so cool how much information can be gleaned from a 6 minute video!) Not only are the Mbaye sisters Muslim and Sufi and Mourides, but they are a part of an even more distinctive subgroup.... these women are Yaye Fall. Yaye Fall is the term used to refer to women who are followers of the Baye Fall movement (yaye meaning mother in Wolof and baye meaning father). A little complicated, I know.... maybe this can help: From larger to smaller group these women are Muslim>Sufi>Mouride>Baye Fall.

What exactly does it mean to be a Baye Fall??? Well… I’m still learning myself and still have questions but I’ll share what I know so far…. From what I’ve learned, anyone who has the love of God in their heart can be a Baye Fall… they must live a life of peace and love and devotion to God.

Baye Fall aim to live their lives similarly to a man named Cheikh Ibra Fall, the most dedicated disciple of Cheikh Amadou Bamba who embodied the values of Mouridism by showing complete and utter devotion to his Cheikh through which he became closer to Allah. He acted as Cheikh Amadou Bamba’s assistant, bodyguard, laborer, and fund-raiser and is referred to as “the light of Mouridism” because of the way he reformed the relationship between the Cheikh and his followers. For Mourides, the relationship that Cheikh Ibra Fall had with Cheikh Amadou Bamba is the template for the purest form of devotion and in turn the path to Allah.

Physically, people who are a part of the Baye Fall movement like Madelayne and Thioro Mbaye can be distinguished by their dreadlocks and wearing of colorful patchwork clothing as Cheikh Ibra Fall is known to have done. During his time Cheikh Ibra Fall wore the same clothes for so long that they became worn out and patched up with different colored fabric… Because of this bedraggled appearance, he was thought by some to be crazy but for him and his followers this appearance represents detachment from physical beauty and worldly possessions.

There are a number of internationally famous musicians who are part of the Baye Fall movement like Cheikh Lo, Carlou D, and Nuru Kane… it is not rare to see dread-locked, patchwork clothes-wearing members of Senegalese bands all over the world. This is another reason that this particular video is so special-- As rare as it is to see women who are part of the Baye Fall movement, it’s even more rare to see some who are also performing musicians! In the clip, not only are these women singing, but they are playing different percussion instruments like the sabar drum and calabash; instruments primarily played by men. In addition to these two forms of percussion, the sisters have one more way to keep the rhythm… While walking around and singing and collecting alms for their Cheikh (as many Baye Fall do), they are using the coins that they collect in their calabash bowls as a rhythm instrument as well!

Anyway… While I know that this post is a bit roundabout and incorporates a lot of different elements, I find the layers of meaning gleaned from this simple six-minute video to be amazing! Through the haunting voices of the Mbaye sisters and the imagery chosen by the filmmakers (for whom there is a link at the bottom of the post), anyone who watches the video can learn something new about Sufi Islam in Senegal and the cultural and religious stories and icons that are so important and prominent in their society to this day.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Catch-Up Post #1: How I Became Oumou Sangare’s Camera Girl for the Night

While during the winter most people hibernate in Chicago because of the menacing cold, summer time in the Windy City is quite the contrary. Chicago is known for its summer festivals and abundance of free outdoor music and particularly for being a hotspot for international music. It’s a difficult decision to choose between going to an African Arts Festival on the Southside, watching a movie outdoors for free with Movies in the Park, taking a dance lesson and concert in Downtown Chicago with Chicago Summer Dance, or having a picnic on the grass at Millennium Park as you watch an international music star. No, I’m not getting paid by the Chicago Tourism Bureau to write this... I just love my city think it’s amazing all the high quality FREE cultural programming that goes down every summer!

So enough about the city... let’s get to the juicy part. After over ten years of absence from the US concert scene, Oumou Sangare, the Malian Songbird of Wassoulou music was going to perform at Millennium Park as part of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affair’s Music Without Borders series.

Who is Oumou?
Well, other than being one of my personal heroes, she is one of the most popular and well-renowned contemporary African divas. She’s known for giving voice to the struggles of Malian and West African women by using the loping rhythms and sweet melodies of Wassoulou music which, coming from the region of Mali south of the Niger river, was originally mystical hunting music sung only by men. Both in her songs and throughout her own life she advocates for women to mobilize, take their lives in their own hands, work hard and be entrepreneurial and is a strident supporter of women’s of freedom of choice in marriage. As if the meaning in these songs isn’t enough, her distinctive piercing voice can give anyone goose bumps, even if you don’t understand the lyrics!
Here is a video of one of her early hits, Bi Furu.

So let’s back to the story. As you might have guessed, I’m kind of obsessed with Oumou, so when I heard that she was going to be performing in Chicago (after jumping for joy), I asked Mike Orlove, the producer of the Music Without Borders series (aka the person who makes so much of the amazing Chicago music programming happen and overall awesome guy) who also happens to be my old boss from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs if I could hang out back stage at the concert.

I won’t lie, I had butterflies in my stomach before meeting her.... I had planned out exactly what I wanted to say to her in French the day before and even wore my pair of gold Fulani earrings because I knew that she wears them as one of her trademarks. Nothing that I did in advance, however, could have prepared me for the evening I was about to have.

After meeting some of the band members, helping translate some things in French (which was really cool!), and watching the sound check, she came out... While I was speaking to one of the band members, she came over to talk to him and greeted me warmly. We shook hands, I introduced myself and told her how happy I was to see her perform for the first time. She thanked me and then complimented my jewelry. Now, for the ladies reading this (I guess guys might do this too but I dunno), you know how happy it makes you when you spend a lot of time and effort choosing an outfit or a certain pair of earrings or whatever that you think will impress somebody and they actually notice it?!?! Well, it was like that but even better because it was an international super star diva noticed! So....through a star-struck grin I asked her in French, “Do you know why I wore these earrings?”. She responded in surprise, “Mais non! Not because you know that I wear them?!?” I nodded and grinned and tried to explain in my nervous excitement how I discovered the beauty of Malian music and culture through her. While I’m sure my French was difficult to decipher in all my nervousness, she must have been able to understand enough because after I was done with my little schpeal, I received not the calm but gracious diva response that I was expecting but a big ‘ole full-on Oumou Sangare HUG!

Oh, but the evening did not end just with my Oumou hug... there is still another twist to the story. After she and the band got all pretty-fied (and boy did they!), they all came out and were about to go on stage. Still giddy from my hug, I was trying to stay out of the way and getting ready to watch the show from my awesome back stage angle... just when I was least expecting it, Oumou, all done up standing six feet tall in her beautiful African bubu, walks over to me and plops her own personal video recorder into my arms. Huuuuh? I was given a 2-minute, way-too-fast-in- French explanation of how to work her camera and of what kind of footage to shoot and then she disappeared on stage into a sea of cheers.

So here I am, left dumbfounded back stage with Oumou Sangare’s large, complicated, expensive personal video camera in arms trying to figure out what just happened. I think to myself.... “Alright... well.... Oumou Sangare wants me to use her personal video camera to record her show from stage... Well, I better just go do it!” So after asking Mike if it’s alright to creep out onto stage I start trying to record the show, all the while repeating to myself the mantra, “I am NOT about to break Oumou Sangare’s video camera!” I recorded about four or five songs from different angles, getting footage of her singing in front of about 3,000 lively Chicago fans before the tape ran out. (It actually happened just in time because the Millennium Park stage security did not approve of the mysterious video girl who was standing on stage). At the end of the day I didn’t break it (thank God!), and while the shots were a bit shaky and blurry at times, all in all I think I did quite a decent job as her impromptu video girl...

At the end of the concert after having watched her playfully engage the crowd, toss a calabash high into the air, and sing like the Songbird she is known to be, I was able to say one final thank you and good bye before leaving her in the dressing room with her ecstatic Chicago Malian contingent.

So... I was Oumou’s camera girl for the night. Why did she choose me to do this? Did we form some sort of special bond? Did she use me for my star-struck enthusiasm? Do I really care? No.....And I don’t really think it’s that deep. It was, however an awesome and inspiring show, an amazing encounter and a refreshing experience. It was great to have my expectations met and exceeded by such a world famous musician. I always had genuine respect and admiration for Oumou Sangare as an artist and now I can say that she’s just a plain old nice person too!


So... Since I’ve just gotten motivated to start this blog, I have a lot of shall we say “back stock” of things to record... I was debating with myself about how far back to reach... I could honestly write a book about all of the awesome international events I got to be a part of during college at Knox, all the amazing music I’ve seen at different festivals and concerts in Chicago over the years, and all the random new musical discoveries I’ve come across through late-night internet meanderings, but instead I’m just going to highlight the ones that left the biggest impressions on me so that we can fast-forward to what’s going on here and now.

Having said that... check out my first catch-up post about my wonderful night under the stars with Oumou Sangare! :-D


Hey! Thanks for checkin' out my blog! :-)

Aight...The aim of this blog is pretty simple. I love to learn about the world and explore the diversity of cultures, customs, traditions, languages, forms of expression, etc that exist all over the globe. To me, there is nothing more powerful than music to illustrate and expresses both the profound diversity and common experiences of human beings all over the world............. Now that I’ve gotten the “I’m so deep and philosophical” part out of the way... I also think that whether you listen quietly, nod your head, shake your groove thang, or try to sing along... jamming to new music from around the world is just plain fun!

So... I hope you’ll enjoy my sometimes deep, sometimes fun, hopefully always interesting blog about international music and musings!