Mu­sic in Mali

A mu­si­cal road trip with a dif­fer­ence at Mali’s Fes­ti­val au Desert

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Listings - DON­ALD CLARKE

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.

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