Mali Foli Coura

17/11/17Bamako's BKO Quintet Returns With Feverish Sophomore Album

Please excuse a short excourse, but this seems to be just the right place and time: We recently stumbled upon a stunning trailer, shared by the Instruments for Africa organisation for "cultural preservation, education and reconciliation in Mali". The clip features several glimpses of different Malian cultural rites and festivities, all accompanied by bold colours, chants and rhythms and is introduced with a quote by Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté, who points out that "The West knows maybe five percent of African culture". More importantly, the beautiful images are paired with poignant narration and a written statement in the description, which we would like to share with you. While it would be too long to paste in its entirety, let us zoom in on a key segment, before we progress:

"Here, we have only known brotherhood and solidarity. So how did jihadists and terrorists come to Mali? These last years, there is no peace. Outsiders brought us things we have not known before. They have brought us a sadness that we did not know before. When the religious extremists came, they did not like our music. They broke all of our instruments, even the n’gonis. [...] If these instruments no longer exist, we 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."

And thus, we make the transition to Mali's ascendant and increasingly acclaimed BKO Quintet, who are set to release their second album November 24th on Buda Musique and share their feverish, contemporary, yet inherently traditional Malian sounds with an even wider audience. Fittingly entitled "Mali Foli Coura", which stands for 'new music from Mali', their sophomore effort delivers just that. This album then is more visceral, more instinctive, more energetic than its 2014 predecessor "Bamako Today" and goes beyond commonplace conceptions of so-called 'world music'.

BKO's new music invites the listener to explore the heart of today's Mali, as they combine the traditional music of the griots with the ancient, mystical rituals of animist hunters: "Associating the guitar of the griots with the lute of Bambara hunters has never before been undertaken in the Malian music universe. These are indeed two opposite worlds that BKO have decided to bring up together, in order to develop a resolutely urban music style rooted in secular tradition." Just watch the companion video to "Tangwanana" below, directed by Cris Ubermann.

And while the connection we decided to make between the statements on Malian music and culture above with BKO's new longplayer may at first seem far-fetched, their immediate common ground being the topic of Malian cultural production as a whole, the underlying message would seem to be that as persisting political and religiously fueled turmoil threaten to destroy culture and tradition, music as a means of communication and oration must prevail.

The BKO Quintet will be performing live at Berlin's Kantine am Berghain this Sunday, November 19th. Listen to four tracks off their forthcoming album "Mali Foli Coura" in the SoundCloud player above.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom