Its when we begin taking things for granted and start categorizing into square boxes that we fall short.
For that reason it’s important to touch base with true values from time to time.
This beautiful feature on an extraordinary musician from the cultural haven of Mali paints the meaning of exactly those values: Mr SAMBA TOURE’ !!
Samba Touré just recently completed a worldwide tour promoting his new album “Gandadiko” released on the well renowned German record label Glitterbeat and will now be touring Europe with a band constellation called Malikanw a band that consists of musicians from every ethnic group of Mali which came together as a part of the Cultural Caravan for Peace project meant to support and preserve the country’s cultural heritage.
Samba represents the Songhoy people. In the band there is also a Dogon (Petit Goro), a Bambara (Mariam Koné), a Touareg (Ahmed from the band Amanar), a Wassulu singer (Sadio Sidibé), a Bwa singer (Ben Zabo) and a Bozo musician (Zoumana Tereta, sokou -trad. fiddle-).
The band will be visiting The Netherlands, France and Italy this upcoming July. Beginning on 2/3 July you can catch the band and much more at Le Murate Caffè Letterario in Firenze.
For more information, please visit Cultural Caravan for Peace
Born in Dabi in the Tombouctou region. Please describe the city as seen through child memories and please describe it as you see it today?
Dabi is a very small village. I was born there, but I grew up in Diré, in the same region of Tombouctou. I didn’t see Daby for many years, but I can imagine it didn’t change a lot, and as a lot of small villages it’s a very poor place with very humble people trying to survive between poverty and crime. I left the region when I knew I wanted to be a musician, If you stay there, you’ll just play for wedding parties, but if you want to become a professional musician, you have to move to the south.
What does Mali represent that is unique for an African country?
Mali is unique by its diversity of ethnic groups. So it’s also a variety of languages, of cultures and traditions, of musical styles. Mali is like a continent of its own, it’s a very large country with a very rich and various cultures, surely more than in a lot of other African countries.
Is it true that your mother was one of the first women to sing with Ali Farka Toure and is it difficult in general for women in Mali to reach acknowledgement?
Yes, but I was a kid at that time and I don’t have souvenirs or memories from this. My mother used to sing in local orchestras at the Biennale festival and in the same band the young Ali Farka Touré used to play guitar. It was a long time before his international success. My mother didn’t have a career, she stopped music to raise her kids, and Ali continued on the road to success.
When and how did you get your first guitar?
When we were kids, we all made our first guitars with sardine boxes or other things. But my first real guitar was a gift from Ali Farka Touré, an old Fender Stratocaster from 1972, I still have it and I used it to play on not so long time ago. But it’s tired now!
Who taught you to play the guitar and who taught you to sing?
Nobody taught me how to sing. In Mali, where there is a lack of school, you don’t have music schools to learn music. Music is a part of our culture and it’s this Patrimony shared by everybody via radios that teaches us the music.
What inspires your lyrics?
Life. What I see around me. Social issues, problems in the north of Mali…with a single word I’d say ‘realities’.
Do you get easily inspired?
Of course! When you sing about problems, you’ll never stop finding inspiration, it’s sad but it’s a fact.
How difficult is it right now to be involved in cultural activities in Mali, especially as a musician and how has it been to be a musician in Mali during the past 10-15 years?
It’s really difficult. First because ever since the start of the crisis in Mali, cultural activities are not a lot. A lot of festivals, events and venues closed. And in Mali there are so many musicians to share the scene, that you can’t play regularly somewhere. I’d say it’s easier for young bands to play in bars or in small clubs than for professional artists. To live from your art in a country like Mali is really difficult, your only chance is if you have chance to tour outside the country.
What does music give you personally?
Pleasure and satisfaction. I don’t need any drug. When my musicians and I play well, when the audience is cool, I feel so much pleasure; I think it’s on my face when I play!
What does music give the people of Mali?
In Mali, music is not just entertainment; it’s not only for fun and dance. It’s a tool of awareness or information or support.
Music also gives a lot of courage to the people, a song like Farikoyo in my last album Gandadiko is a tribute to the farmers. So you have tribute songs to honor certain persons, awareness songs to inform about issues like ebola, peace and unity, work values, advises…
Why does Mali have such a great tradition for music, not least the desert blues?
Well I think desert blues is a western word to enclose all the musicians from Sahara in the same box. But it has no sense; there is no relation between my music and Tamasheq music or traditional music from Chad or Niger. It’s just a new ghetto they invented, like “world music” before that.
If you have so many music styles in Mali it’s for that reason I told you before: the variety of ethnic groups in Mali, more than any other West African country.
Where do the apparent psychedelic aspects of your music come from?
I don’t know what is exactly psychedelic. If you are talking about the modernized songs in my albums, it’s just a work of mixing different aspects of music I can hear from all over the world and from anytime that all come from blues. If I put some distortions in my music, it’s still traditional music, but it’s electrified, nothing more.
Let’s pretend that people elected you as President of Mali, what would be the first thing you would do for the people and what would you do for the culture?
I would nominate an artist as minister of culture, someone who knows well how it’s hard to be an artist without any support in his own country. We are better considered outside than at home, you know!
And as a president, I would take care of things like every family has a decent house to live in with power and water. It’s still not the case in Mali in 2015, so that would be my only priority. Then I’d have a lot of other things to do for health, education…Please don’t vote for me it’s too much work!!
Do you feel blessed?
Not especially. But I’m thankful to have chance to travel with my music, to discover the world, to meet wonderful people here and there, that’s a great chance I have that a lot of people would like to have.
Passions besides music?
I like watching movies, and spend time with friends and family, but nothing special, I’m a very simple man with few needs except to see my friends are ok around me.
Biggest dream as a child?
To fly in a plane. Done it!
How do you remember your childhood?
Yes, I remember our child games.
Where do you live now?
I’m in Sebeninkoro, Bamako South, not so far from the president’s house! I was in center town before for years but I have built my house in a quieter place.
Hopes for your own future?
Continue music and to build a future for my children. I’d also like to find a good booking agent in Europe to help me in my career. I don’t have one and it’s my manager, here in Bamako who try hardly to book a few shows every year but it’s very hard for him, it’s not his job. So if any cool booking agent reads these lines, please contact us!
Hopes for the future of Mali and for the people of Mali?
Yes, I want peace and unity of course, peace for development, and I also want the end of corruption, that is the second reason of our poverty.
Peace and development. What else do we need?
I never been to school and I can’t read easily, just a few words, so I never read a book in my life.
I don’t know, I love a lot of things, from Malian cooking to European food. Maybe pizza is in my favorites.
Two favorite albums coming out of Mali?
“Niafunké” by Ali Farka Touré and an album by Nahawa Doubia: “Dankaw”
Two favorite albums from outside Mali?
A John Lee Hooker album, but I can’t choose which one, and I’d say a Bob Marley album like “Catch a Fire” that I listened to a lot in my youth.
Most beautiful African country you have ever seen besides Mali?
I see very beautiful things everywhere, In France, Italy or in the Netherlands but also in Guinée and in Morocco where I saw the most beautiful landscapes ever.
Mali has about 50 different local languages besides French and Bambara. Which of the languages do you speak?
I speak of course Bambara with Songhaï, my native language, but also Peuhl (Fulani) and a few words in some other languages (Soninké, Dogon…)
Biggest gift you have received in life?
My children, without any hesitation.
Worst disappointment you have experienced?
A lot in the music business from some people but I won’t tell who, it would be too much! And in my private life, I have been disappointed by some friends who betrayed me one day, but it’s ok, we all know these situations, it’s sad when it comes but it’s not the end.
Your strongest and weakest characteristics?
I’m a patient man, very patient. It’s a strength in some cases. And my weakness is that I can’t say no, even when I’ve been asked something that is boring for me.
Any bad habits?
If I had some, I would not tell about them!
What impact does the sun have on you?
Like for anybody it makes me tired! It’s 42 degrees today, no wind, no rain; it’s just hard to stand.
What sensations does the desert transmit and do you ever ‘listen’ to it? To some the desert gives an imagination of solitude and freedom, can you relate to that or how else would you describe it?
I think it’s a western romantic view of the desert. The realities for people coming from the desert is a hard life. But I like it by night, when the sand becomes cold as snow, when you can see the stars in the sky.
Do you practice any sport?
No, never have!
Recipe to peace and harmony, uniting the Malian people as one?
If I had the recipe, peace would be there! I really don’t know how to find peace when the ones who created this crisis still don’t want peace. There is peace and harmony between everyone in Mali; problems come from a minority of armed criminals against the whole country. It’s not a question of division between south and north as medias wrongly said. It’s a conflict created by criminals against 16 millions of Malians.
What is the meaning with life?
Life is a mystery, death is another one but I don’t think about philosophy, I’m like any other man, wondering anytime with no answers to my questions.
A favourite popular saying from your country?
‘Yiri kuru mèomè dji là ateké bamba yé’ .It’s Bambara and it means ‘Whatever is the time when the branch stays in the water, it will never become a crocodile’ or you’ll never change what you really are.
If you were to write a short poetic story in your local village language that paints your life up until today?
If I’d do it, I’ll make it a song for my next album, and I’ll dedicate the song to you as you gave me the idea, and you’ll be first to know it!
sseennsseess would like to sincerely thank Samba Touré for his availability and the beautiful answers he provided for this interview, of course we also hope to see his song dedication on a next album 🙂 🙂
A big thank you to Samba’s manager Philippe (QUICKSAND Management) for having been so kind to act as an intermedia, translating all the questions into French and all the answers back into English as well as providing a few private photos. Very grateful!
Thank you to Silvij from Glitterbeat Records for pointing me in the right direction and for providing the professional part of the photos.