Skip to main content

The Ngoni Showcased in Mali: Leni Stern's Sabani

From a media release:

CD Release: leni stern's Sabani
Release February 14, 2012

Wildly creative guitarist meets musical soulmates and engaging new instruments in Mali—and records a stark yet warm dialogue as part of a close-knit, cross-cultural trio

In a warm Malian hotel room, the ngoni smiled.

A seemingly simple instrument with an evocative sound and deep past, it was both delighting and baffling the intrepid jazz and blues guitar maven from New York. Its tuning was open to interpretation, to the player’s feeling in the moment. The tonic sat square on the middle string, not at the bottom like most Western stringed instruments.

But as Leni Stern played this great-grandfather to the banjo, she knew she was in touch with something big. “I kept feeling I had the ultimate blues instrument in my hand,” Stern explains.

This ultimate blues buoys Sabani (Leni Stern Recordings; release: February 14, 2012), a beautifully stripped down collection of graceful and dynamic instrumental lines, thoughtful songs, and catchy dialogue across traditions. Inspired by easygoing jam sessions with two Malian musician friends and recorded at Salif Keita’s Mouffou Studios in Bamako, Sabani brings the sound of every string, every pulse of the calabash and bounce of the talking drum to vivid life, to honor the intense and intimate connection Stern has developed with West African music over the last half-decade.

Stern and a trio of African master musicians—Kofo (talking drum, vocals), Alioune Faye (percussion), and Mamadou Ba (bass)—will share this sound with audiences on the West Coast and Midwest as part of their Spring 2012 tour. Cities include Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, Albuquerque, and Phoenix.

“I don’t know why I waited so long to record this way,” Stern reflects. Stern—whose life has taken her from Munich to New York, from the Peruvian rainforests to the music school in Benin she helped found—was a veteran of the American and European avant rock, jazz, and singer-songwriter circuit.

Brought by UNESCO to mentor studio engineers in Mali, Stern was hooked. She began performing at seminal venues like the Festival in the Desert, touring with musicians from Keita to Baaba Maal, and, perhaps most importantly, making close friends with her newfound teachers and companions. She spent nearly two years living, learning, and making music across Africa.

Bassekou Kouyate, masterful player of the ngoni, and other members of his highly respected family showed Stern the instrumental ropes. Ami Sacko, a popular Malian singer often compared to Tina Turner, taught Stern songs and vocal approaches, while her brother Buba also helped Stern work on her ngoni chops. Stern became a member of the family, earning a new name (Oumou) and sharing the many adventures and trials the musicians encountered as they played for presidents or dealt with collapsing festival stages.

It was playing alongside Kouyate at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Malian independence, as one of 50 ngoni players honoring the occasion, that Stern was first wowed by the deep and resonant ngoni ba, an encounter that sparked Stern’s first ngoni-powered, blues-rich song, “Still Bleeding.”



Yet the most powerful moment that became Sabani, the spare follow up to Stern’s more lavishly arranged Africa-inspired work, was the feeling Stern savored as she jammed with friends from Keita’s band, string whiz Haruna Samake and artful percussionist Mamadou “Prince” Kone, who brings some of Mali’s lesser-known rhythms to the album.

Hanging around bus stations and airports, waiting for Keita, or meeting up in the evenings, the three friends often drank sugar-laden tea and made music together, blending their instruments and voices simply and organically.

This vibe bursts through on tracks like “Sorcerer,” which pairs Stern’s sharp, gritty, often eerie guitar with Samake’s round and percussive string work, and Stern’s Ricky Lee Jones-esque vocals with a warm, serpentine chorus in bambara Instrumentals like “An Saba” and “The Cat Who Stole the Moon” show both the virtuosity of crack players and the close listening of good friends, as contrasting yet harmonious melodies and timbres dance in dynamic interplay.

As the project came together in the relaxed atmosphere of Mouffou’s riverside studio, Stern also invited Sacko to sing (the bittersweet “Papillon”), and learned a thing or two from veteran sokou (folk fiddle) player and singer Zoumana Tareta. Tareta regaled the three friends with both wisdom earned from his life as a sought-after musician (by stars like Oumou Sangare, for example) and with the gripping vocal performance that graces “Djanfa.”

These experiences have transformed and deeply moved the seasoned Stern, filling her with a quiet, unexpected sense of coming home, a moody warmth that pervades Sabani.

“After all my time in Africa, all the musicians I’ve gotten to work with, I feel like a different guitarist, a different person, like I belong to the red earth and the warm winds and the people I love there,” Stern muses. ”I don’t think anyone can go and live there without changing profoundly. And we have a lot to learn from Africa.”

Live Dates:
• February 14, 2012 - Blue Whale, Los Angeles, CA
• February 15, 2012 - The Compound Grill, Phoenix, AZ
• February 16, 2012 - Outpost Performance Space, Albuquerque, NM
• February 17, 2012 - Alvas Show Room, San Pedro, CA
• February 18, 2012 - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL

Comments

What Else Is Hot This Week?

Harlem Stage Digital Event: A Drop Of Midnight October 13 & 15 2020

From a release:Harlem Stage Digital Event:
A Drop Of Midnight
October 13 & 15 2020A two-part conversation with Jason ‘Timbuktu’ Diakité and his creative team around the developmental process of creating his autobiographical theater project, A Drop of Midnight. In this conversation Jason will take us on his journey to becoming one of Sweden’s chart-topping hip-hop artists and a best-selling author. He’ll also share the story of how a mixtape from Brooklyn traveled across the waters to the tiny village of Lund, Sweden and altered the course of his life forever. We will examine the impact of hip hop music and culture on the globe. How has hip-hop united communities of color globally?  How do you translate a personal story into a universal truth? How do you build a creative team? How has the current climate of social justice informed your artistic practice? Jason will read excerpts from the play and share some of the music. October 13—Part IIn this conversation A Drop of Midnight author…

Review: Night of the Kings / La Nuit des Rois by Philippe Lacôte

Review: 
Night of the Kings
La Nuit des Rois
by Philippe LacôteA France, Côte d'Ivoire, Canada and Senegal co-productionNow Playing In The New York Film FestivalImageAfter Venice and the Toronto Film Festival, Philippe Lacôte's Night of the Kings has moved on to conquer New York City. A young pickpocket (Koné Bakary), is incarcerated in the giant La MACA prison, the largest in Côte d’Ivoire. The prison offers a hostile atmosphere, where the guards have long given up keeping order and the prisoners run the show, albeit confined within the prison walls. They dance, sing, and mingle at will in a common area called The Jungle. There is a violent power struggle between Lord Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu), who runs things, and the younger leaders of other factions. Blackbeard is old and infirm, and he knows he can't hold on forever. But, he does want to hold on long enough to leave on his own terms. Blackbeard designates the newcomer as the new storyteller - the griot - called Roma…

So You Can't Go: Six Ways To Travel Virtually

So You Can't Go:
Six Ways To Travel VirtuallyTravel is limited for most of us in the world these days. For Canadians, it depends on the province you live in, but with the border to the US still closed, and other options limited at best, virtual travel from the couch can provide at least a view with a difference at a time when you may well need it most. Google Cardboard – VR On A BudgetYou don't need a lot of cash to get into travel via virtual reality. Google Cardboard is a line of VR viewers that are, well, made of cardboard, and are priced starting at $12CAD.If you check out this link, you'll find out how to download the software to your smartphone.At this link, you can get yourself an actual Google Cardboard for a hands-free VR experience. Google Cardboard apps offer a variety of ways to experience our beautiful planet, including Google Earth itself, which can take you anywhere, along with apps to view museums and cultural artifacts, and more.Ascape VRAscape has a huge l…

Modern Romanticism | Stanley Grill: And I Paint Stars with Wings (Innova Recordings / February 14, 2020)

Modern Romanticism:
Stanley Grill: And I Paint Stars with Wings
In praise of mysteries
(Innova Recordings / February 14, 2020)Composers: Stanley Grill
Performers: Camerata Philadelphia, Stephen Framil, Brett Douglas, Deubner, Peggy Pei-Ju YuCheck Out The Release On Innova RecordingsAmerican composer Stanley Grill is about to release another album of his work, so I thought I'd catch up on the last one, And I Paint Stars with Wings. 
His work with Camerata Philadelphia and others on the release is melodic and evocative, modern romanticism with achingly sweet harmonies. Grill's goal is to use his music to encourage thoughts of world peace, most obviously evidenced in Pavanne (for a world without war) for string orchestra. It's part of his Music for Peace project, composed, as described by the composer “after having made a decision that my music needed to serve another purpose besides the obvious one of touching the hearts of those who listened to it. However unlikely of success, t…

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company Spring 2013 Toronto Performances

From a media release:

The new season brings
Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
to new heights and new audiences

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
April 25-28, 2013 - Annual Toronto Season - World Premiere of Portales

TORONTO : Following on the heels of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company's (EESDC) 30th anniversary year where its production Aguas/Waters was named one of the top five dance shows of 2012 by NOW Magazine, the early months of 2013 are full of excitement and possibility for Esmeralda and the company, which brings the finest flamenco and Spanish Classical Dance to Toronto stages.

March 20-24, 2013 - A Night in Madrid
Company dancers Esmeralda Enrique and Paloma Cortés perform Spanish Classical dance with the celebrated Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir for A Night in Madrid featuring the Iberian flavoured music of composer Luigi Boccherini who made his home in Spain. His work is infused with the sounds of Spanish and gypsy folk music.

March 20-24 …