Firstly the bad news.........
I have just discovered that both of my hard drives of photos and movies have been infected by some evil virus and i'm unable to retrieve any photos to show you lovely people of my time here in Bamako.
Hopefully I'll be able do get a clever computer nerd to rescue things when i get back home but for the meantime you'll have to just use your imagination a little more than usual. My good friends from the Visions Series do have back ups of most of the material so all is not lost..... i hope.
And now the good news......
There will be some links for musicians in this post so why not click on one and listen to some beautiful Malian music while reading. That should make up for the lack of visual aids.
When i first arrived here in the capital city of Bamako I realy didn't like the place. I found the pollution absolutly overwhelming and the taxi drivers cut up the streets like total nutters trusting in Allah alone that we will live to see another day. The madness of city life just made no sense to me. The only green spaces that i first noticed in the city were little gardens growing salads and vegetables on any available piece of land. This maybe wasteland amongst building sites or along the banks of the majesitc river Niger that flows right through the centre of town. But so often these gardens will grow alongside black stinking stagnant pools of water and apperently the local poeple wash their salads with a few drops of bleach just to be sure its clean from any lingering nastees. Mmmmmmmmm, Salad with bleach sir?
With the general state of dirt and dust in this place it was inevitable that I would get sick at some point so after 6 months on the road I had my first bout amoebic nastees that left me laid up in bed in a feveresh sweat and peeing out of my bum. (sorry if that was to much detail for some of you, but i guess its part of the realities of travel in some parts of the world.)
But having said all that and now that I have recovered from my sikness and a little more used to the place I really have grown quiet fond of this city or rather it's wonderful people and culture. I have spent the last 10 days staying in the home of Soloman Dembele right on the edge of town away from the madness. Its pretty much a neighbourhood under construction, like so much of this city, and is as dusty and disorganised as the rest but has a calmness about it and all the local folk I have met have been great fun and very kind. I am staying with a Dutch friend here who is a singer and music student and with Soloman who is fantastic Kora (West African Harp) player and well known instrument maker. All sorts of musicians pass by and and there's allways a friendly face about the place and sometimes some nice jams going on.
Most musicians here traditionally belong to griot families and will have one of a handfull of surnames such as Dembele or perhaps Diabate or Kouyate. Music plays such a huge part in society in Mali and Malian's cherish their artists dearly. Last weekend i was able to see some of this nations top musicians playing including Toumani Diabate at a club where he plays every friday night. This is a clip of him playing with the wonderful late Ali Farka Toure http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJUE03aeaQ4&feature=related
On Saturday I went to a festival in a near by village called Selingue on a lake and was blessed to watch The queen herself Oumou Sangare perform with Sheik Tidiane Seck as well as the legend Salif Keita and Mali's reggae hero Koko Dembele. I had hoped to show you so pictures from the event but check out these video links to get an idea of what their music is all about. It was so good to see another side of Malian culture away from the struggle on the streets and to dance all night to such quality music. It was also beautiful to see how these people really love and honour their elder musicians as the entire audience sang along to Salif Keita's set.
This is what my time in Bamako has been all about, Music, and exactly why i came here in the first place. I have been having guitar lessons every day with fantastic little dude called Kasim Dembele and learning tunes from Mali and Guinea and just love the whole sound that these guys are working with. I'll be hitting the road on my bike again tommorrow west to Guinea and do so with a very warm feeling in my heart about my time here in Bamako. It would ofcourse take months to really get under the skiin of this place and learn just a little ofthe musical culture but my 2 weeks here have been so rich that i don't mind moving on and to be honest it will be nice to breath some clean air again.
I first came to this city in 1995 and I remember being continually hassled by young guys claiming to be guides and looking for tourists to take on excursions to the historic cities of the north including Mopti, Djenne and the infamous Timbukto. Now there are no guides touting for work as there simply is no more tourist industry here these days. Every European government advises against almost all travel here after a number of kidnappings in the north involving groups of bandits, Tuaregs and Al Quieda militias. Timbukto had relied on tourism for amost 50% of it's economy so this is making life even harder for this country apparently rated the 4th poorest in the world, what ever that means. My experience he has been so deeply rich in hunanity, culture and kindness that i think we need a whole new way of evaluating what really counts in this world. Gross National Happiness perhaps, rather than the usual GNP.
Well, once again I'm sorry for the lack of photos this time and i wish you all well and hope that the spring is beggining to warm your toes after the winter months as I'll be peddling of in a hazy 34 degrees tomorrow heading back to The Gambia via the mountains of Guinea.
Much love to one and all