Monday Music - Soothing Tunes and Gentle Rhythms of Mali Music


Today's edition of Monday Music was inspired by the wonderful @riverflows, who posted about using music and exercise to keep her sanity while being locked up in a tiny hotel room for two weeks, after returning to Australia during the Covid crisis. Some of the links she posted there sparked my interest, as you can see in our interactions in the comment section of her post. That is how I started my musical exploration of the music from Mali, which has brought me a lot of joy over the last few days. Let me share what I've found:

Ali Farka Touré, the African Bluesman

Considered one of the most renowned African musicians internationally, Ali Farka Touré is probably the best starting point to explore Mali music. His tunes feature the superimposition of various rhythms as is typical for West African folk music, which interestingly sounds a lot like the Blues! I remember @riverflows mention this, but I didn't expect the similarities to be this obvious. Certainly, the fame of the Blues spanned the world several times, with enthusiasts playing it from Japan to England, but in this case the relationship may be the exact opposite: the type of Blues played by Touré could easily be the ancestor of the Delta Blues. It certainly makes sense.

The first album by Touré I listened to was Talking Timbuktu, which he recorded together with Ry Cooder, and was probably the one most people outside of Africa have heard. This was followed by Savane, Touré's last album released posthumously, and The River, as a result of @riverflows recommending me the "wrong" Ry Cooder album. (See the comments for details!) My favorite Touré album, however, is the folky sounding Niafunké, named after his home village, of which he became the mayor in 2004.

Tinariwen, Desert Rock from the Sahara

Another band recommended by @riverflows, which I found instant liking to, is called Tinariwen, meaning "deserts" in their native Tuareg language. Their music is a very interesting mix of traditional Tuareg, Berber, and West African music, as well as pop music from all over North Africa and the US/UK. Ali Farka Touré is among their major influences, but so are Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. They make great use of the electric guitar, with the same chilled rhythms I enjoyed so much in Touré's music. What I particularly liked in my first impression of them, is their surreal Saharan animated music video linked in @riverflows' post. This is another, similar one:

Oumou Sangaré, So Much Heart and Soul

Although she was not among @riverflows' recommendations, my exploration of the music from Mali led me to discover Oumou Sangaré, a.k.a. The Songbird of Wassoulou. Although the tunes and rhythm is very similar to that of Touré's music, Sangaré manages to add a great deal to it. Raising the musical experience to a higher level, it just feels so full of life. Supposedly her lyrics are full of social criticism regarding child marriages and women's rights, but since I don't understand her language, all I could do was feel her messages. And did I feel it!

Calm Vocals and Relaxing Rhythms, That is Timbuktu

At this point I also want to mention a movie I saw some years ago. It is a 2014 film called Timbuktu, illustrating life in Mali, particularly under the rule of the jihadist regime at the time. What I remember from that film mostly is the super chilled ways its characters interacted with each other, their calm voices and gentle movements. Particularly the scene where a few friends meet in someone's home to secretly play music together, since it was forbidden by the Islamist rulers. Sure, they had to keep the volume to a minimum, but the music itself was already so calm and beautiful that I couldn't even imagine it amplified to a higher level.

I know, these are just my first steps on this musical journey, which I'm sure is going to take me into the depths of African music. I can only urge everyone to take a listen to these tunes, and see where it takes you. For me it was certainly a journey worth embarking. Thank you so much for starting me out on it, @riverflows!

Take a Look at the Previous Posts in my Monday Music Series:

The Sound of the Hungarian Zither
Obligatory Line-Dance at Mexican Parties - El Payaso del Rodeo
Floating Into the Night by Julee Cruise
Classic Canadiana - Stan Rogers
Party Like There's No Tomorrow, Cry Like Everything Is Lost - Hungarian Gypsy Music
The Harder Sound of the Middle Ages - Corvus Corax
The First Hip-Hop I Actually Liked - Things Fall Apart by The Roots
No Prophets in Their Own Land - Rodrigo y Gabriela
Beyond the Boundries of Styles and Genres - King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard
Accordion-Rock You May Not Know (But Really Should) - Los Tabascos
Songs of the Mexican Revolution - La Adelita
Memorable Weirdness - What Do You Want A Japanese To Do Again?
Gloomy Sunday - The Hungarian Suicide Song
Party Tunes from the Wild East - The "Russendisko" Experience
Folk Songs from Your Home Village - Hungarian Regional Sound Archives
Polynesian Salt Water Music
Images Conjured up by Tom Waits' Music
In Country: Folks Songs of Americans in the Vietnam War
Somebody Tell Me - Translating a Hungarian Song Into [EN] and [SP]
Somebody Tell Me - first trial & live performance [HU] [SP] [EN]
Horst Wessel in Mexico
Playing for Change - Old Favorites Played Around the World


You and I have such similiar tastes in music. So many musicians have opened up for you in this part of world now. Toumani Diabete offhand. Great review! I love Toures first album, Radio Mali.. bought in a record shop in Prague, early 2001.. on a whim as I was broke. To this day it reminds me of sitting on edge of Vltava in Cesky Krumlov.