“If these instruments no longer exist, then we will have lost everything. I do not know how we will pass on our history, because the music itself permits us to know our past, to help us live, even today…it is our culture which will die.” --- Afel Bocoum/Malian musician
Mali's traditional life, customs and art forms (musical and otherwise) are in a steady process of decline. Bamako, the country’s vibrant capital, is the fastest growing urban expanse in Africa and the rapid turn of young people from the village to the city, has profoundly affected the value placed on Mali's ancient musical traditions (musical instruments, songs, oratory, and dance). The repositories of these traditions (elders, artisans, musicians, dancers, healers) are finding it increasingly difficult to transmit their arts to the ascendant, transitory generation.
Bamako-based producer/educator Paul Chandler has been documenting the sonic and cultural complexities of Malian traditional music for more than a decade and “Every Song Has Its End” is an out-of-time, visceral collection of sounds from Chandler’s unparalleled archive. Echoes of these sounds can of course be heard in the urbanized Malian music that has been embraced throughout the world, but the songs, ritual soundscapes and accompanying images found here are undoubtedly more raw, foundational and filled with surprise than the Malian music we are accustomed to.
Over the past few years, accompanied by a recording engineer and a video-maker, Chandler has ventured to off-the-grid villages and crossroad towns all across the vast Malian landscape. Through a network of long-nurtured local contacts this small team has sought out practicing traditional musicians and their under-documented and often endangered musics. Immersive and exhilarating, these field recordings and videos give us a privileged glimpse into the intricacies of the Malian musical experience.
The tracks on “Every Song Has Its End” are in fact as varied as the land that they come from. The haunting modulations of the mostly female Group Ekanzam and the spiky, electrified drone of Super Onze were both recorded in Mali’s remote and embattled northeastern desert region. Conversely, the hypnotic, pulsing sounds of the Mianka Cultural Troupe’s elk horns (buru) and Ibrahim Traore’s warrior harp (bolon) have been recorded more than 1,500 kilometres away in Mali’s more verdant southern hill country. Some of the musicians are playing music that is tied to a specific traditional caste or village function. The declamatory “hunters” music of Sidiki Coulibaly and the “cultivator” balafon excursions of Kassoun Bagayoko are examples of this. And one track in particular, Sigui lé (It’s the Wild Buffalo) from the Nioguébougoula Cultural Troupe, seems to operate in a realm beyond mere music. The recording is a layered, 3D window into traditional village life, the “audience” and the “performers” interacting and fusing in a way that upends contemporary musical hierarchies.
When asked what compelled him to make these distinctive recordings, Paul Chandler offered this: “I realized that this stuff was quite precious and was starting to disappear…there are traditional instruments and there is music that is played in a traditional context…and while there are a lot of Malians playing music, music played in a traditional context, for ritual, for ceremony, to accompany activities in the village, that is becoming more rare…”
While it is ultimately impossible for us to fully grasp the cultural context and depth of the recordings on “Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches from Traditional Mali,” it also seems nearly impossible not to be hooked in by the mesmeric sound culture that they mirror. Without doubt, this is Malian music at its finest.
01 Le Souvenir
03 Nianju Wardè
05 Taka Kadi
09 Donzo Fasa
10 Sidi Modibo
11 Sigui lé