by Segun Fajemisin

Afel Bocoum is among the last of a breakthrough generation of African musicians who cross-pollinated their own traditional music with the new sounds that arrived from all over the world throughout the 20th century. Hailing from Niafunké in Mali, an area that straddles the cultural riches and political tensions between the northern and southern areas of the country, Bocoum spent decades touring and recording with desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Touré. His debut album ‘Alkibar’ (1999, World Circuit) propelled him to international recognition, leading him to work collaborating with Béla Fleck, Habib Koité, and Tartit Ensemble among others.

Afel Bocoum

‘Lindé’, named after the wild expanse near Bocoum’s hometown of Niafunké, is a remarkable blend of deep tradition and audacious innovation. With the support of executive producers Damon Albarn and World Circuit’s Nick Gold, the album was recorded in Mali’s capital Bamako and stitches together the age-old music of the Niger bend with styles from across the globe, boasting performances from a number of eminent Malian musicians including Madou Kouyaté, the late ‘Hama’ Sankaré, and Madou Sidiki Diabaté, along with the drums of recently-departed Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen, the trombone of Vin Gordon (Bob Marley / Skatalites) and the violin of Joan as Police Woman.

Traditional instruments like the ngoni, njurkele, kora, and calabash blend with guitars, percussion, and call-and-response vocals. The result is a gently undulating flow that emanates from a source hidden deep in the historical and mystical traditions of Bocoum’s native land, enriched along its way by musical tributaries and cross-currents. It’s music that rolls rather than rocks, graceful, unforced, and minimal by design.

‘Lindé’ is also an album with a message – in the face of an uncertain and turbulent world, and a homeland struggling with jihad, poverty, and tribal war, Afel Bocoum urges hope, solidarity, and unity. “We have to meet each other, talk to each other, look each other in the eye and tell the truth”, Afel says. “If we’re not united, I can see no solution. Our social security is music. That’s all we’ve got left. People love music, so we have to make us of that fact.”

Afel has dedicated the album to his friend and notable Malian musician, Hama Sankaré, who tragically passed away in March. Hama was best known for his exceptional and ground-breaking work as a calabash percussionist and backing singer with Ali Farka Touré, and he performed on most of the tracks on ‘Lindé’.

Watch the video for Afel Bocoum’s ‘Avion’ here:

Text and images courtesy World Circuit Records
© Feferity Media Group 2020

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