You would be forgiven if thought that you have heard the music on Gandadiko before, that it seems oddly familiar.
For Gandadiko is the fourth solo album from the Malian singer, guitarist and composer Samba Touré and he first came to the attention of world audiences playing with the legendary Malian international star, Ali Farka Touré. Much of the feel of this album is reminiscent of Ali Farka Touré’s recorded output over the years.
By Samba Touré
But since the release of Samba Touré’s first recordings some 13 years ago with his debut album Foro, he has proved that he is his own man –slowly coming out of the shadow of the great Ali Farka Touré to present his own hypnotic guitar work, his own assured vocal style and his own profound lyrics.
Indeed, even before his work with Ali Farka Touré he had paid his dues with the group Farafina Lolo (African Star) and also performed with kora player Toumani Diabaté.
Like Samba Touré’s previous album, Albala, recorded in the febrile atmosphere of Bamako in 2012, when many feared that Mali would fall under the control of a radical Islamist uprising that was sweeping south from the north of the country (which is where, incidentally, Samba Touré’s ancestral village is located), Gandadiko features a regular band member, Djime Sissoko, on the ngoni. The ngoni is a West African traditional hand-held stringed instrument.
But Gandadiko does represent a step in a new direction for Samba Touré. As Philippe Sanmiguel, Samba Touré’s producer for both Albala and Gandadiko, explains: “One thing I’m sure of is that we didn’t want to do a second Albala. For Samba that album was maybe a little too sad and he wanted something closer to what he really is: hopeful.
“So the challenge was to have something as strong as Albala, but with more variety in the rhythms and moods and colours. I think the album sounds musically less dark, it’s more danceable and up-tempo, but, sorry Samba, it’s not entirely a joyful album. Tension, troubles and danger are still there in many of the songs.
“The drought in the north caused many economic problems and worsened the security situation. TV and internet news often talk about wars, but all the human distress and consequences that ensue from it are rarely fully told. Since the crisis started, we saw many people losing all they had, jobs, herds in the north, friends, hope … a cow now sells for a tenth of what they did two years ago, because they are so thin and weak. That is what the opening title track ‘Gandadiko’ is about.”
Gandadiko translates from Touré’s native language. Songhai as “Land of Drought” or “Burning Land”. And the eponymous title track speaks of the struggle that the people of the north of Mali face are confronting on a daily basis, the twin threats of both drought and conflict.
The lyrics translate to: “Our tears are not enough to make the land fertile. Animals die one after the other, the ground becomes dry, There is nothing more to eat for the herds. Cows are only skin and bones.”
Touré’s lyrics are generally rooted in social and political issues, as each song communicates a thoughtful message. In one other song, Touré tackles the despair that the situation in his homeland causes, and how many turn to alcohol to drown their sorrows – with inevitable consequences.
He is no fundamentalist, railing against alcohol as an Islamic stricture, but sings of his personal experience, on the song ‘Su Wililé’, about an old friend that he never sees sober.
It is a warning song to the youth. Nowadays, he believes, in Mali, some hip-hop artists celebrate beer and marijuana too easily, without any sense of responsibility in front of their young audience. The song is a reaction against this.
Touré sings: “When I see my childhood friend who looks twice my age, and who just can’t remember me. When I see these living dead, I give thanks that alcohol has never crossed my path.”