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Bamako Sounds

Bamako Sounds: The Afropolitan Ethics of Malian Music

Ryan Thomas Skinner
Series: A Quadrant Book
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Bamako Sounds
    Book Description:

    Bamako Soundstells the story of an African city, its people, their values, and their music. Centered on the music and musicians of Bamako, Mali's booming capital city, this book reveals a community of artists whose lives and works evince a complex world shaped by urban culture, postcolonialism, musical expression, religious identity, and intellectual property.

    Drawing on years of ethnographic research with classically trained players of the kora (a twenty-one-string West African harp) as well as more contemporary, hip-hop influenced musicians and producers, Ryan Thomas Skinner analyzes how Bamako artists balance social imperatives with personal interests and global imaginations. Whether performed live on stage, broadcast on the radio, or shared over the Internet, music is a privileged mode of expression that suffuses Bamako's urban soundscape. It animates professional projects, communicates cultural values, pronounces public piety, resounds in the marketplace, and quite literally performs the nation. Music, the artists who make it, and the audiences who interpret it thus represent a crucial means of articulating and disseminating the ethics and aesthetics of a varied and vital Afropolitanism, in Bamako and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4440-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. INTRODUCTION: A Sense of Urban Africa
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book is about the morality and ethics of musical identity and expression in a West African city: Bamako, Mali (Figure 1). Bamako is a city that incorporates multiple scales of place: national, local, translocal, and global. It is Malian, the multiethnic capital of a modern nation-state; Mande, the metropolitan center of a cultural heartland; Muslim, an urban locus of the Islamic Ecumene; and African, a continental city in a postcolonial world.¹ Bamako residents encounter these registers of place to varying degrees and in a variety of forms in their everyday lives, but such encounters, in all their diversity, always...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Representing Bamako
    (pp. 15-46)

    I first met Issa and Lassy through one of those moments of serendipity that crop up (or so you hope) in the course of long-term fieldwork. I had entered my second month of research in Bamako, feeling overwhelmed by the density of a project not yet distilled by time. I was sitting at a cybercafé in Bolibana, the Bamako neighborhood on the Niger River’s left bank, close to the city center, where I lived during my year-long stay in 2006–7 (Figures 3 and 4). I don’t remember to whom I was writing, but the email undoubtedly lamented the unfamiliar...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Artistiya
    (pp. 47-76)

    Following the proclamation of the newly independent Republic of Mali on September 22, 1960, a group of young musicians in the capital’s Bamako Koura (New Bamako) neighborhood formed an orchestra.¹ Their style was Afro-Cuban, consonant with the popular Caribbean and Congolese sounds that suffused the continent at this time (see Perullo 2008; Shain 2009; White 2002), with players on guitar, timbales, tumbas, horns, and vocals. They took the name Pionnier Jazz to support the work of the neighborhood Pioneers, a national Scouting group. Recruited by municipal officials to “perform the nation” (Askew 2002), members of Pionnier Jazz composed songs to...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Ethics and Aesthetics
    (pp. 77-106)

    Applause from the audience fades. The artist bows his head; his eyes closed. He is alone on the stage. His hands return to his instrument and his thumbs strike a pair of strings. A low drone swells in the darkened theater space, an annex to the French Cultural Center along the Boulevard de l’Indépendence in downtown Bamako. The crowd is silent. Raising his head, illuminated by the soft hues of convergent spotlights, the player explores the low register of hiskora, executing rapid runs as his thumbs strike alternately up and down the instrument’s two planes of strings. Without pause,...

  7. CHAPTER 4 A Pious Poetics of Place
    (pp. 107-130)

    “I take refuge in God from the accursed Devil,” Tata Diabaté declares, enunciating her words clearly in the sacred verse of classical Arabic. She stands, clothed in shimmering green robes, accented in gold, before a bride and groom in a capacious hall at the Hotel de l’Amitié, the prominent five-star high-rise in downtown Bamako. Seated behind Tata, accompanying musicians dutifully follow her moralizing invocation, anticipating the praise song to follow. Anticipation mixes with anxiety, however, as the musicians recall party organizers’ earlier injunction to refrain from vocal praise, a plebian and vernacular practice they believe to be out of place...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Money Trouble
    (pp. 131-154)

    In November 2006, the Triton Stars, an aspiring Malian dance band (whose work we encountered in chapters 2 and 3), finished up a four-day run at Studio Bogolan in Bamako (Figure 18). The recordings were for the band’s second album, a follow-up to their first release,Immigration, which had been on the market since January of the same year without any sales to speak of. In an effort to rejuvenate the band’s prospects, producer Racine Dia decided to re-release the first album in January 2007, to be followed soon thereafter by the second (as yet untitled) album, building on the...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Afropolitan Patriotism
    (pp. 155-180)

    Beginning in June 2012, international news reports about the crisis in the West African Sahel frequently gathered around a common theme: what anthropologist Paul Stoller called, in a recent editorial, “the death of music in Mali” (2013). In the context of an aggressive and expansive Islamist occupation of northern Mali, these stories coupled harrowing testimonies of corporal punishment (including public floggings, stonings, and amputations) with personal accounts of the extreme cultural austerity of everyday life in cities like Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. We read of the desecration of medieval mausoleums and manuscripts, the strict enforcement of ostensibly “Islamic” modes of...

  10. CONCLUSION: An Africanist’s Query
    (pp. 181-188)

    “Is afropolitanism the answer?,” asks art historian Salah Hassan, pairing this question with the phrase, “rethinking cosmopolitanism” in his Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola Lecture at the 2013 annual meeting of the African Studies Association.¹ Hassan’s title raises two related questions: What is the problem posed by “cosmopolitanism” that suggests Afropolitanism as the answer? And, if we entertain the idea of the Afropolitan as an answer—or, rather, as a way of “rethinking cosmopolitanism”—how might we understand this idea, this identity, this mode of being in the African world? In his talk, Hassan explores these questions through the contradictions and ambiguities...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 189-192)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-208)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-226)
  14. Index
    (pp. 227-233)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 234-234)