MUSIC of MALI : Film Production

MUSIC of MALI : Film Production

It’s been a few weeks since I touched down in West Africa. I’m working on a crew producing a film on music in Mali for KSK Records. The production is based in Bamako, the burgeoning, polluted, hot dry and dusty capital of Mali that spreads over the Niger like two overstuffed packs on the back of a donkey.

We are recording in various locations—on rooftops, in courtyards, nightclubs, recording studios etc. We’ll be making trips to other parts of Mali, including Wassalo, the ancestral homeland of some of the music featured in the film.

The first weeks here have been an obstacle course of trials and adventures. I’ll detail those events elsewhere but the short story is we’ve moved numerous time, lugging sound and camera equipment as we go. Now the whole crew is settled into a large house in a newer development of Bamako called Golf. The air in Golf is far cleaner than in the thick of Kalaban Coura, the older, vibrant quarter of the city where we spent the first days.

At night, I see the sky and stars. During the day, there is evidence of blue through the haze. In the morning, through my eastern window, I see a burning orange globe come up over the shoulder of the unfinished cinder block mansion across the street. The air cools enough through the night and the breeze blows so that the sun feels good on my face, not as threatening as it will be by Spring.

Photos by David Nicholson and Camen Hodges

In the past two weeks we’ve had sessions with General Diabate [master djeli/griot dun dun player], Madou Diabate [son of kora master Sidiki Diabate and younger brother of Toumani Diabate], Djeneba Seck [one of Mali’s most beloved singers], Zoumana Therete [soku fiddle], Sali Sidibe [Wassalo singer] and a djembe group lead by Mache. I’ll detail these sessions in the coming weeks along with my impressions of the music and people I come into contact with. Each session and life in general is full of hurdles and slow downs, but the overall process is exhilarating and the results are better than I could have imagined.

I get so caught up in the technical execution that sometimes I have to pause and remember what I’m doing: I’m in West Africa recording masters of a musical tradition that few people on this planet are capable of executing and many music lovers may not even be aware of. In addition to being a sublime and living musical force all its own, this music is the direct antecedent to so much of the music that I have loved and cut my teeth on back in the States. It’s a complete dream, recording masterful musicians in a live and natural setting. Set the mics up, get levels and go. Musicianship is not an issue. Ego and stylized gestures, false-starts and rockstar bullshit does not factor here. Not to say that the music doesn’t have style or that there isn’t a constant hustle involved.

It helps to have Oz Fritz at the controls as Sound Engineer. I’m assisting Oz. We have compatible approaches though he carries with him years more experience and a golden set of ears, not to mention a unique outlook on most anything and a sense of humor as dry as the Sahel.

The film crew consists of David Nicholson [Director of Photography] and Camen Hodges [Third Camera] both from Nevada County. Jim Fabio [Co-Producer] arrived a little over a week ago to complete the team.

The project is headed by Executive Producer Aja Salvatore and his brother/Co-Producer Eo Salvatore. They have made a 10 year effort learning the music of Mali in extended annual trips, building relationships with the musicians, learning Bamana in-depth, recording a tremendous archive of material and supporting the musicians and their networks to facilitate this long-range project. Aja and Eo are an indispensable conduit between the Malian musical culture and the recording and film medium that we are operating in. It would be impossible to distinguish between their passionate connection to this music, this place and these people and the essence of the project itself. This is the latest chapter in an ongoing labor of love. Being here on the ground, seeing all the obstacles against doing something of this scale, it amazes me that this project has come as far as it has already and will soon be completed.