The Bamako Locomotive: From Savannah Blues to Manding Rock

African Business, June 2004 | Go to article overview
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The Bamako Locomotive: From Savannah Blues to Manding Rock




Cat: LBLC2581

Both Salif Keita and Mory Kante took their first musical steps with Bamako's Buffet de la Gare Super Rail Band. And once again, on their new recording Kongo Sigui, the legendary Rail Band is a source for everfresh renditions--whether of original songs or songs inspired by centuries-old tradition. For example, the title song is the name of the buffalo that lives in the bush. This animal figures in the story of Sunjata, the first king of the Malian empire.

Sunjata's grandmother was a supernatural being who manifested herself as a buffalo with menacing powers. Bamaba Dembele, the Rail Band's percussionist says "you cannot speak about Sigui without mentioning the bravery of hunters because there are so many ferocious animals living in the bush.

"Before the arrival of western medicine in Mali the hunters were the healers. They understood traditional medicines and when dangerous beasts threatened villagers, it was the hunters that fought them and protected the people. That's what this song is about."

Like all the other songs on this album, the title track celebrates the kind of courage, honesty and thought for others that Malians respect so deeply.

In Mali, where traditional music has always been of an extraordinary vitality; the birth of the first 'modernised folk' band, as African electric music was then called, was not witnessed until 1970. This group was to become to modern Manding music what E T Mensah was to Ghanaian Highlife, what Mahlathini was to Mbaqanga (South African township jive) and what I K Dairo was to Nigeria's Juju music.


It is those high-pitched voices, undulating melodies and unbelievable guitars that are the fuel for Bamako's golden locomotive, which thunders from savannah Blues to urban Manding rock.

The band's most successful singers--Salif Keita and Mory Kante--have become household names in the West--and were considered the uncontested superstars of Mali's musical scene until the 'arrival' of fabulous Wassolou women vocalists like Oumou Sangare (see African Business April 2004) who burst onto the scene in the late nineties.


A lot has happened since that memorable night when the Rail Band played its first show back in March 1970.

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The Bamako Locomotive: From Savannah Blues to Manding Rock


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