Les dimanches à Bamako. Sundays in Bamako

I went back to Africa last month, on a sunday just like today, four weeks ago exactly. Ok, it was a short trip. Two hours back and forth. 🙂

Salif Keita was giving a unique concert in Mexico city. We jumped on the occasion. The concert was held at the Teatro de la ciudad, a cozy, charming 19th century affair, nicely restored. I don’t think there were more than five or six hundred people present including 90% of Mexico’s African Expats: two, maybe three hundred people?

Salif Keita is from Mali. One of Africa’s – and the world’s – greatest contemporary musicians. Some call him “the golden voice of Africa”. He is also an albino. Both a curse and a paradox in Africa. A curse, because albino babies in Africa are considered bad omen in many tribes. Sometimes killed at birth. And a paradox: he is a “white”, colourless African. He splits his life, I understand between Bamako and Paris, and has created a Foundation in Africa to fight prejudice against albinos.

I have lived in many cities in Africa, never in Bamako, the capital of Mali, but that night Salif Keita and his band took me back to Africa:

Friday is I believe a holy day in Islam. Christians have Sunday. Jews have the Shabbat, but Friday is the day of the Great Prayer at the Mosque. Last Friday, “Bullies” killed more people. Not in Beyrouth, not in Paris. In Bamako, capital of Mali, home to Salif Keita. Embassies and governments rushed in to say “No nationals” involved in the killings. I wish foreign affairs reps would stop. Who cares about the nationality of the victims? Human beings, once again, were killed by bullies. Why do I say “bullies”? deadly “bullies”? ‘coz that’s all they are: bullies. And why is bullying spreading in schools around the world? Because all avert their eyes. A bloody nose or two in the school yard is not unheard of, but weeks, months of bullying the same “little” boys or girls, and no-one sees, says, does anything?

We have become the three monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, (say no evil) with a fourth monkey: let the evil spread. Do nothing. Ah! There was a bomb in Beyrouth. Who cares? They’ve had many. There were shootings in Paris. OMG. Isn’t “Sally” on a tour in Europe? But no, the adults, the teachers, the juniors or seniors avert their eye when someone’s bullied in the schoolyard, in the world yard. Our yard! And the bullying goes on.

Keita’s song: “In the past whatever happened no-one wanted to know.”

“To-day, you’re supposed to take part.

Whatever’s happening you’re all asked to take part”

(If you’ve skipped the video, don’t cheat, click on it, it has subttitles. I don’t speak Malinké or Manding) 🙂

That sunday evening, a month ago, I was back in the Africa of my childhood. The magic house stuck between the sea and the Traditional African village. Yes with huts like the ones in the video. And the women making millet flour and the villagers throwing a “party” every night. I swear, there was always an occasion to celebrate: a birth, making palm wine, crops, a good fish catch, whatever, with music, cora, balafon, drums. Some nights the masks came out. A big, magical affair we were not supposed to watch. And (almost) every night my little sister and I would go to sleep to the wonderful sound of (west) african music.

Again that sunday evening in Mexico, I would listen to Salif Keita’s voice, the Cora (A west african instrument. Unique sound. Look it up) the voices of the choir women, long, long, with endless hands and legs, who could not stop dancing even when they were sitting.

The concert ended up with everybody (almost) climbing and dancing on the stage, invited by Keita. There were a few very good traditional dance steps from Guinea I recognized.

Now the bullies have hit again. In Bamako. On a Friday, the holy Day. Today is Sunday, and as I mentioned, Sunday has a special meaning for Christians. But, also in Bamako (Mainly muslims). In Bamako, Sunday is the wedding day. Strange, but makes sense. The typical Christian wedding day is Saturday. Sunday is for Church and Mass. I confess not knowing what day Jewish weddings are conducted. Probably not on Saturday. The following artists are Amadou and Mariam , blind singers from Mali. It is called: Le dimanche à Bamako c’est le jour des mariages. (Sunday in Bamako is the day for weddings)

The song is in French. No subtitles I’m afraid. Doesn’t matter. Let yourselves be carried away by the sound of the cora and the Balafon, and Amadou and Mariam’s voices.

It is now sunday evening in Mexico. Sunday died away in Bamako a few hours ago. But next sunday? There will be weddings again in Bamako. And the brides will the prettiest. And the men will wear their best clothes. And there will be music.

Même pas peur.

Not even afraid.

41 thoughts on “Les dimanches à Bamako. Sundays in Bamako

  1. Very nice. I definitely hear where jazz gets its influence from.

    I do not understand how these bullies think that their actions will yield the results they want.

    • Bullies, in the school yard will bully all their life if they don’t get a good swat on the head by the principal or headmaster, or whatever you call it.
      In the case of the other bullies, I think Victorian “caning” in public would be an appropriate response. And they let them go with their shame.

  2. Lovely post! You took me to Africa with you. Your pride comes through.

    The second video reminds me of a band in the 90s I really enjoyed called Rusted Root. They were quite popular for a while and it was an interesting sound for sure.

    Amazing how music can take you back to your childhood with your sister?!

    • We spent five years between the sea and the African village.
      And indeed almost every night there was a celebration. Drums, music, dancing… A nice to go to sleep when you’re 9 or 10.
      (I could imagine the lions not far away!)
      I think the house may still be there. But the dirt road and the african village have been replaced by a four-way lane and loads and loads of buildings.
      As far as I could tell on Google earth a few years ago.
      And the city, Conakry, is now called by everyone in west Africa: “ConaCrime”

      • Gotcha. Love probably better describes. One may love somebody or be proud of, but it is not necessarily the same thing. That Africa (sixties) was the end of many a beautiful place. Nature. Trapped in a car in the middle of an elephant herd… the endless sea. The costumes. The magic of the masks going out of the village to perform some xyz ceremony. (We’d watch discreetly through the hedge). I understand what you mean. Now… last time I went to Africa was in 1988. I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Or maybe. I have a couple of old Senegalese friends taunting me. I have a cousin in Cape Town. 🙂
        Now, if you ever set your mind on “trying” Africa, Kenya, Zanzibar, Tanzania and Botswana are your best options. A night in the bush under a canvas tent is an experience you will never forget. Signed: Uncle Mzungu.

      • Africa is most definitely on my list. I have never been and am certainly aching to go there. Since I love the animals so much I would hope that could be a big part of my visit. (And I would certainly need some new lenses in anticipation of a trip…)

        Just dreaming at the moment though.

      • Lenses yes. Definitely. You need at least a 100mm zoom. And that is not enough for the enormous variety of birds. Now, since most of the traveling in parks is done driving (Not too safe walking with lions around), you can carry a couple of very goo zooms in the van. Make your dreams come through. Why wait? Tip. “Safaris” are probably cheaper to buy in Europe than in the States. Because there is a lot of tourism from Europe. Look it up. A London or Paris round trip to Kenya or Botswana, plus the fare US-Europe…Or, see how much a flight costs to, say Nairobi. And look at local packages. On-Site from Nairobi. There are many options now.

    • Rich indeed. A friend of my daughter’s whose father is Morocco once asked me about “le mal d’Afrique”, a sort of Baudelairian “spleen” that affects those of us who’ve lived in Africa. I told her there was some truth in it. One never really gets over Africa. 🙂
      Have you been there in one of your many travels?
      (Coincidentally, I was just browsing through some of your posts. “Ceci n’est pas un musée”. Of course it wasn’t. What did you expect? 😉

  3. Lovely Brian, and a welcome reminder of the wonderful music of West Africa. Again, a bright light in dark times. I have the fondest memories of the Festival au Désert, sadly the last time it was possible to have the festival in its traditional home of Essakane, 70KM north of Timbuktu. Now they can’t even hold the festival in Timbuktu. I also remember going to music clubs and bars in Bamako with a gang new friends and listening to superb music, everywhere was so full of life and fun. Terrible times for Mali, France, Tunisia…on and on.
    Take care, Brian

    • If only the words could stop the rage, the madness… But I’m afraid we will all need more than words.
      Et pourtant… J’avais pensé faire un post sur Salif Keita après le concert. Pas eu le temps. Et puis d’autres assassins ont frappé á Bamako.
      Ecrire le post était facile. Un hommage à tous ceux qui tombent…

  4. I have never heard of Salif Keita before. Thank you for the introduction Brian. Being an albino African is quite a cross to bear, and he does it with music. Tomorrow is Friday. Here’s hoping for a quiet one.

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