Music in Mali
A musical road trip with a difference at Mali’s Festival au Desert
DAMBÉ – THE MALI PROJECT Directed by Dearbhla Glynn Gen cert, Light House, Dublin, 94 min
OVER THE past few decades, the Republic of Mali has emerged as a holy place for European fans of sinuous African rhythms and melodies. If you want to learn more, then seek out Dearbhla Glynn’s enjoyable documentary following a recent trip to the country by former Hothouse Flower Liam Ó Maonlaí and legendary hyper-piper Paddy Keenan.
The two musicians prove to be most engaging company. Keenan, older and a little more circumspect, wears a look of stoic acceptance as they make their way along the Niger and onwards to the sweltering innards of the Sahara desert.
Ó Maonlaí, whose chatty charisma remains undimmed, wears unlikely hats without embarrassment and manages to make new friends at every corner. Despite the differences and the discomfort, the two pals make it to the Festival au Desert, a musical jamboree that takes place at the oasis of Essakane, without biffing each other to death with mandolins.
The similarities between African and Celtic music have often been noted, but the collaborations in The Mali Project – local virtuosi such as Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabaté exchange licks with the Irishmen – illustrate those mystical connections better than any academic treatise could manage. Indeed, the jams are sufficiently agreeable to cause the viewer to wish Glynn had included (or recorded) a little less aimless ambling and a little more music.
Still, though a tad rough around the edges and somewhat chaotically structured, this low-budget sketch offers an enjoyable way of experiencing the culture of Mali without also experiencing the sand and the sunstroke. Give it a go.
Liam Ó Maonlaí (right) with Afel Bocoum (left) at the Festival au Desert.