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