Samba Toure - Gandadiko

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"His voice is resonant, the rhythms have a relentless groove and his guitar burns with the intensity of the desert sun. But above all, there’s a confidence and gravitas that reinforces the feeling that Samba is a man whose time has come." - **** Review of “Albala”/ Songlines (UK)

Samba Toure’s previous album Albala was recorded during the fear-laden atmosphere of 2012, when northern Mali (including his ancestral village of Diré) had succumbed to sharia law and radical Islamist control and Bamako, his adopted home, still reeled in the chaos of the recent military coup.

Albala received widespread acclaim and was rightfully recognized not only as the best album of Samba’s career but also as an undeniable musical statement about the human toll of war and political crisis. Samba had spent years honing his artistry (including stints playing with Malian blues master Ali Farka Touré and Kora genius Toumani Diabate) and Albala signposted a mature artist, full of sonic imagination and narrative fire.

Gandadiko, the title of Samba’s potent, diverse and ambitious new album, translates from his native language Songhai as: “Land of Drought” or “Burning Land.” The title seems to indicate a return to the dark textures that marked Albala but in fact Gandadiko is a more complex story than that.

Philippe Sanmiguel, a record producer living in Bamako (Anansy Cissé, Mariam Koné) and Samba’s producer for both albums, provides the details: “One thing I’m sure of is that we didn’t want to do a second ‘Albala’. For Samba that album was maybe a little too sad and he wanted something closer to who he really is: hopeful. So the challenge was to have something as strong as ‘Albala’, but with more variety in the rhythms and moods and colors. I think the album sounds musically less dark, it’s more danceable and up-tempo, but, sorry Samba,it’s not entirely a joyful album. Tension, troubles and danger are still there in many of the songs.

The drought in the north caused many economic problems and worsened the security situation. TV and Internet news often talk about wars, but all the human distress and consequences that ensue from it are rarely fully told. Since the crisis started, we saw many people losing all they had, jobs, herds in the north, friends, hope… a cow which was sold for 400,000 cfa (600€) less than 2 years ago is now sold at 40,000 cfa (60€), because they are so thin and weak. That is what the opening title track ‘Gandadiko’ is about.

Our tears are not enough
to make the land fertile.
Animals die one after the other,
the ground becomes dry,
There is nothing more to eat for the herds,
Cows are only skin and bones.

--Gandadiko (Fireland)

Samba is a very good father for his kids and teaches them positive things, but he can’t teach the whole country except via songs that warn about certain issues. ‘Su Wililé (The Living Dead)’ is a song about an old friend of Samba’s that I have never seen sober. This song is a warning song to the youth. Nowadays in Mali, some Hip Hop artists celebrate beer and weed too easily without any sense of responsibility in front of their young audience. The song is a reaction against this.

When I see my childhood friend
Who looks twice my age
And who just can’t remember me.
When I see these living dead
I say thanks that the alcohol
Has never crossed my path.

- Su Wililé (The Living Deads)

A strange anecdote about ‘Su Wililé’: The day it was recorded was the same day I asked Samba to record the Djinn (a traditional evil spirit) song on the new album, called ‘Gafouré.’ Samba likes to play that song but he never thought to record it. He agreed to do it but said to me: ‘one day you’ll cause problems for me with this music, Holley (Djinn music) is really dangerous.’ That same night, Samba’s alcoholic friend, the one he sings about in ‘Su Wililé’, died. He was headed that direction for sure but Samba really thinks recording ‘Gafouré’ contributed to his death!”

The musical moods and textures found on Gandadiko often play against the moralistic, reflective and at times anguished tenor of the lyrics. For example, Touri Idjé Bibi (Black Fruits) breezes along with a straight-ahead, infectious dance groove, punctuated by soaring backing vocals. The hopeful sound that Samba had originally sought seems to have been found. But the final lines of the song are pointed and cautionary:

Oh earth, forgiveness, oh river forgiveness,
Everyday we offend you.

Touré is known to search for the seeds of his musical ideas in the assorted stack of CDs he listens to while driving through the chaotic streets of Bamako. The out-of-the-box musical inspirations he has picked up for his new album range from Serge Gainsbourg (Wo Yende Alakar) to Bo Diddley via Tom Petty (Su Wililé ) to funky psychedelia (I Kana Korto), though of course all the raw material is instinctually filtered through the traditional melodies and rhythms of his Songhai musical heritage.

The songs on Gandadiko are in fact framed by a restless eclecticism. Samba’s guitar playing has never been so anxious, exploratory and rock and roll and his voice has never been as smooth and relaxed. Samba wants to be many places at once and the accomplishment of Gandadiko is that by successfully navigating these sorts of “contradictions,” Samba’s artistry has reached an even higher level.

But whatever sonic triumphs Gandadiko has, the key to Samba’s music is always found in the heart. The final song Woyé Katé, beautifully sung together with his good friend Ahmed Ag Kaedi (from the Tuareg band Amanar), is a timeless plea for pan-ethnic understanding and a world where possibility trumps destruction. Such a song would have been much harder to sing two years ago, when war and crisis and division were the watchwords. But here Samba and Ahmed have seized the current moment of fragile calm and have used their resplendent voices and guitars to call for unity. Music simply can’t do much more than that.

You have to come back to your houses now
We shall reconstruct, all together
We shall reconstruct houses,
We shall reconstruct the country
And we won’t let anyone speak for us again.


Tracklist:
01. Gandadiko
02. Wo Yendè Alakar
03. Malè Bano
04. Farikoyo
05. Touri Idjé Bibi
06. Chiri Hari
07. Gafouré
08. Su Wililé
09. I Kana Korto
10. Woyé Katé