Le Mali 70

20/11/2020Berlin's Omniversal Earkestra Releases Collaborative Afrobeat Project With Malian Legends

What have we here? Our Greedy senses instantly went wild upon hearing the first single "Watjoro" off the Omniversal Earkestra's newest collaborative album "Le Mali 70". The Berlin-based big band flew to Mali to record a spectacular album with iconic Malian musicians from the '70s the likes of Cheick Tidiane Seck, Sory Bamba, Abdoulaye Diabaté and, of course, Salif Keita. The resulting ten-track longplayer recently released on Munich imprint Trikont and is most definitely on our list for album of the year. 

But let's take a quick trip back in time: After gaining independence in 1960, Mali experienced a sort of awakening that was accompanied by a blossoming big band culture, drawing on influences from Cuba as well as from local Dogon, Wassalou or Tuareg traditions. Besides Fela's afro-funk, Cuban brass was another big influence on the local soundscape, inspiring a host of metropolitan big bands and many of the Malian heavyweights now included on "Le Mali 70". However, although their numerous hits are known throughout Mali to this day, many of these legendary recording artists and outfits seem almost forgotten and continue to live in difficult circumstances.

Upon witnessing the local music culture live during a previous trip to Mali, Berlin's Omniversal Earkestra was so deeply impressed that a project was born and funded by TURN-Kulturfonds, that would eventually lead the ensemble on another trip to the West African country and to a memorable encounter with absolute legends. Retracing the steps of big bands such as the Rail Band, Les Super Bitons de Segou, Kanaga de Mopto or Le Mystère Jazz de Tombouctou (whose names remain mostly unknown in the western hemisphere today) and teaming up with local greats, the Omniversal Orchestra revisited original song material to be reworked as contemporary big band arrangements. These new arrangements were later recorded in Bamako alongside Salif Keita at the Moffou studio. 

There's clearly a positive vibe to the album, that keeps listeners engaged from start to finish. The groove is infectious and undeniable. Melodies are on point, the musicianship is mesmerising and the drive pretty much unrelenting, but never overwhelming. The rhythm-section is vibrant, the brass warm and inviting, yet never too shrill or imposing, and the overall experience is flat-out rejuvenating. One thing's for sure: The funk is strong with this one.

The entire “Le Mali 70” experience was filmed on location and edited to accompany a future live show. We certainly hope we will get to see this project perform live in the near future, but for now, the album stream and teaser below should do. 

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom