Sunday, August 20, 2006

To take my mind off lazy, fat, marauding kitties who wait under trees for baby birds to fall out of them (not even bothering to climb the tree!), I watched the most superb film this afternoon: je chanterai pour toi/I'll sing for you a film by Jacques Sarasin, subtitled Boubacar Traore walks through memories of love in Mali. Meetings with Ali Farka Toure, Malik Sidibe, Mamadou Sangare, Madieye Niang,... It is extraordinary, beautiful, and if you are like me it will make you cry - not because the story is unusual but because it is universal in the scope of his music.

Last year Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate's album In the Heart of the Moon was my favourite of the whole year. Every time I played it in the shop we sold out. Everyone bought it, including people who had never bought an "African" or "World Music" album before. Ry Cooder (who gathered the Buena Vista Social Club from Cuba together) made a date with the two of them at the Hotel Mande in Bamako. They arrived, they played - no rehearsals - and the result is at the same time spare and full, luminous. The entire album is guitar and kora, with very occasional vocals from Farka Toure. They won a grammy and toured; the dates in London didn't quite suit us and we thought "next time". Ali Farka Toure died in March this year - there won't be a next time.

je chanterai pour toi follows Boubacar Traore (also known as KarKar) visiting old haunts in Mali after many years in exile. The footage is amazing, interweaving film clips from the independence period in the early sixties, photos by the master photographer Malik Sidibe, interviews with friends and contemporaries and all held together by footage of the return trip to Mali, with Traore playing solo or with other artists en route.

The film opens with Traore playing his guitar (he has an endearing way of cradling it as though it were a lover, with his head resting on it):
When you talk to each other,
don't forget to invoke the name of God.
And if you love God,
don't forget to invoke His Messenger.
That's what the prophet said,
the prophet Mohammed.

Let us open wide to others,
the doors of our homes,
because death spares no one,
not even the powerful.

That's what my brother Kalilou said.

That's what my wife Pierette said.

I open wide the door of my home to you
because death spares no one,
not even the powerful.

If death should spare someone because he is powerful,
if death should spare someone because he is well known,
then my brother Kalilou
would never have left this world
And my darling Pierrette
never would have left this world.
(translation and words from the film)
There is a fascinating discussion of religion at one point, overlaying footage of one of Mali's mosques built in mud. I found it resonating strongly with ancestor worship in southern Africa, the worship of the amadlozi. After a section on Bambara fetishism and Traore's involvement, Mamadou Sangare narrating says:
There are two aspects to KarKar's spiritual life. On the one hand there is this really strong belief in the supernatural, mysticism, etc. and on the other, there's Islam, which restrains certain fervours and behaviour. Islam taught him to renounce vengeance, Islam showed him how to be tolerant. Islam showed him how to accept the people who abandoned him. Thanks to Islam he was able to accept Pierrette's death...
Also an interesting comment when placed in the context of some current views on Islam in the "war against terror"!

The best place for African music and related paraphenalia is Stern's Music. They sell copies of this DVD which are all zones compatible, and there is a seperate CD of the music from the film also available (same title), with downloadable samples of tracks online. I hasten to add that they also have a huge sale until September 1st! I know, I know, I sound like an advertisement for them, but they are truly nice people and what they do is a labour of love.

I've learned my lesson with Ali Farka Toure - when Boubacar Traore is next in town I'll be the first to buy tickets.

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