Makan Badjé Tounkara
As well as playing with an array of Mali’s contemporary music-makers, Makan Badjé Tounkara has carved out a space to share his own stories, which he narrates under his name in a second album, Sodjan. His academic yet modern playing of the ngoni, the string instrument played at the royal court for centuries, leads him irresistibly into the land of the blues.
The key to the musical world inhabited by “Badjé”, dominated by the charming sound of his favourite instrument, lies in the fact that the 46-year-old Malian received an “old school” musical education. His tender years were devoted to assuming an ancestral knowledge that left no time for school.
To be born a griot is to live out an inescapable destiny as a musician entrusted with the history of a people. Badjé’s father, Mody Tounkara, was one of the managers of the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali, a highly reputed 28-man troupe formed straight after the country’s independence at the wish of President Modibo Keita. The Ensemble’s role was to safeguard and foster the traditions of the country’s different ethnic groups, with the aim of promoting national identity to the people, and extending its cultural influence further afield.
Badjé’s practical and theoretical knowledge have ensured his reputation as a respected ngonifula (ngoni player) whose talents have been put to use by numerous artists over the last three decades. They include figures of the griot movement, like Kandia Kouyaté, Amy Koïta and Mah Damba, as well as more cross-cutting projects, like playing alongside his brilliant compatriot Sorry Bamba, or in the company of Français Seb Martel and the Anglo-Italian Piers Faccini, both on stage and in the studio.
With this second album, Sodjan, which comes nine years after N’goni solo, Badjé moves closer to joining his two worlds, keeping his feet firmly planted in strong traditional inspiration, but with his head turned towards horizons new – although with less audacity than the master of the art, Bassekou Kouyate. The strings of the three ngonis (solo, bass and accompaniment) blend together along with a light touch of percussion.
The blues permeate the album, especially when Badjé adds his voice to A Yé Wili. He invites guests to sing on some of the other tracks, including Adama Diabaté, with whom he performed back in 1994 at the Africolor Festival near Paris. Three of the ten tracks are instrumental, and the alternation works well thanks to a careful treatment of the sound that gives shape and space to the notes liberated from the ngonis’ strings.
Translation by: Anne-Marie Harper
Makan Badjé Tounkara Sodjan (Buda/Socadisc) 2012