Awe­some mu­sic from the ar­chives: L’Orchestre Kanaga de Mopti

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS - Donal Di­neen

Sit­u­ated on the in­ter­sec­tion of the Bani and Niger rivers, Mopti is a city of wa­ter that is of­ten called the Venice of Mali. Like many cross­roads it’s a cul­tural hub where strands of dif­fer­ent civil­i­sa­tions in­ter­twine.

The name Mopti means “gath­er­ing” and an­cient eth­nic groups with mu­si­cal names such as the Bam­bara, Bozo, Bobo and Do­gon min­gle there, giv­ing the area a dis­tinc­tive iden­tity.

In the 1960s, dur­ing the first Repub­lic of Mali, mod­ern orches­tras were en­cour­aged and pro­moted by Modibo Keita’s gov­ern­ment. In 1970, multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist and song­writer Sory Bamba was ap­pointed band­leader with the Mopti re­gion’s orches­tra.

Un­der his tute­lage the orches­tra be­came known as the Kanaga de Mopti af­ter the cer­e­mo­nial mask of the Do­gon peo­ple. Bamba had spent a lot of time study­ing an­cient Do­gon mu­si­cal tra­di­tions in vil­lages along the Ban­di­a­gara cliff but he was also well at­tuned to mod­ern sounds and record­ing meth­ods. The range of in­stru­ments in the orches­tra ex­panded to in­clude syn­the­sis­ers, sax­o­phone, drums, elec­tric gui­tar and bass.

In July 1976, the orches­tra vis­ited the Ra­dio Mali record­ing stu­dio in Ba­mako to doc­u­ment its sonic evo­lu­tion. With only a cou­ple of mi­cro­phones and a four-track record­ing desk to work with the six tracks that emerged are tes­ta­ment to an ex­tra­or­di­nary feat of en­gi­neer­ing on the part of Boubacar Traore, the pro­ducer.

It’s an awe-inspiring ca­coph­ony of sound. It buzzes with un­teth­ered en­ergy. Rules are bro­ken and grav­ity de­fied. Wild vo­cal in­ter­ac­tions weave around bells, drums and brass with­out ever com­ing a crop­per. It cap­tures a kind of fierce ex­cite­ment that would bring any mod­ern stu­dio to its knees and is pure unadul­ter­ated gold.

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