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by World Music Network May 17, 2018


Invisible System: Bamako Sessions

Invisible System is the pseudonym and brainchild of producer Dan Harper, whose return to Mali has spawned an album of great creativity. Collaborating with some of Bamako’s finest musicians, he seamlessly fuses traditional with modern whilst keeping alive the true essence of Malian music.

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Invisible System is the pseudonym and brainchild of producer  Dan Harper, who rose to prominence with his internationally acclaimed Ethiopian fusion albums. This new chapter in his musical experimentation finds Dan returning to the musical powerhouse of Mali where he spent three years as an aid worker from 1999, met his Malian wife and became a father. The experience of living in Mali sowed the seed for this project so many years later.

On his return to Mali, made in part possible by an Arts Council grant, Dan based himself in Samé, part of the green forested edge of the capital Bamako and the region where his wife was born and raised. Here he met up with some griot musicians after his wife Hawa introduced Dan to her childhood friend and guitarist Banjougou and in turn Ousmane Dagon, an ngoni player who could effortlessly play both traditional and modern styles. Dan also invited the renowned Malian singer/songwriter Sidi Touré to a couple of the recording sessions and managed to track down his old friend and guitarist Kalifa Koné, who'd written, recorded and toured internationally with Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare, and whom Dan recorded way back in 2001 at the Malian Government Recording Studio, ORTM.

The recording sessions took place over a month inside a rented house which Dan treated with mattresses for acoustic control. In-keeping with the true organic nature of the project, the musicians arrived at various times and jammed with Dan to produce tracks on the fly, some stemming from their initial ideas and some from Dan’s - both parties keen to hear and work with the other’s culture and style. As with previous Invisible System projects, everything is a first take and improvised on the spot making it spontaneous and real.

Morissamda Diabaté was brought in to play a hired drum kit on the last day of recording. Although the drums were in a pretty sorry state – you can hear their grit on the recordings – they had the desired guts and soul that were required. Three friends who had previously played alongside Banjougou were also invited to play on the project with both Cherif Soumano and Seyba Kouyaté adding kora and Djémory Kouyaté on balafon being the most traditional of the players, cracking and munching kola nuts as he went along. Talking drum (tamanin), djun djun and djembe were also added by the core crew.

Remarkably, they managed to improvise forty-eight sketches/tracks in three weeks which were then sculpted, edited, mixed, produced and added with dub style bass by Dan in the UK after laying down some guitar, synth and beats in Bamako. This Riverboat release is an instrumental album of handpicked mixes from these sessions, which remarkably almost didn’t take place at all due to the equipment not arriving at Bamako airport or being boarded onto the plane during a change-over in Morocco.

Like all great collaborations, the true essence of this album lies in the mutual respect, friendship and interest between the musicians, giving each track a palpable sense of enjoyment, energy and creativity. Since the recording of this material guitarist Banjougou sadly passed away, leaving behind his wife and children. In the words of Dan himself ‘we have to stay positive and believe he is still with us and play his music that is captured on this album’.