On 24 March, World Music Network is releasing two brand new compilation albums: The Rough Guide To Mali and the Rough Guide To Latin Rare Groove. Both albums come with a bonus album and are available as a one off purchase, or as part of our subscription service.
Mali is a fabled land of musical giants and this Rough Guide features the towering figures of Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Touré and Basekou Kouyate. However the music of Mali is now under threat as never before. In the words of singer Fatoumata Diawara, ‘music has always brought hope in Mali. Music has always been strong and spiritual.’
Before the March 2012 coup d’etat of President Amadou Toumani Touré, very few outside of West Africa knew much about Mali (except for perhaps a group of historians and world music devotees). Much of Mali is encompassed by the Sahara desert, which, despite its often scorching temperatures, has been aptly described as an ‘inland sea’, connecting the Arab and Berber cultures of the north, with the Fulani, Bambara, Mandinka and others in the south. After Muammar Gaddafi fell in the Libyan civil war, huge caches of heavy weapons were left unguarded – many ended up crossing that ‘desert sea’ and arrived in Mali. Fueled by outside groups, Al Qaeda gained a stronghold in northern Mali, installing Sharia law, closing schools, and banning so-called ‘Satan’s music’. Tragically, the region that had long been known for its ancient manuscripts, magnificent mud-architectural mosques, and captivating folk music was engulfed in conflict.
Mali’s musicians have never shied away from mixing politics and song. Vocalist Oumou Sangare (who is also a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador) has been outspoken on issues including women’s rights and polygamy since the 1990s. In 2013, when the conflict made it impossible for Mali to host its renowned Festival in the Desert, Sangare helped to take the show on the road, headlining the Caravan For Peace, performing in Tuareg refugee camps in Burkina Faso. Similarly, Khaira Arby (cousin of legendary guitarist Ali Farka Touré) has taken on issues such as female circumcision in her music. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when war threatened to engulf Mali, its leading musicians banded together. Fatoumata Diawara gathered the nation’s leading musicians together to produce a video calling for a peaceful end to the conflict, most of whom are featured on this compilation, including Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Vieux Farka Touré, Nahawa Doumbia and Khaira Arby.
The role of these musicians cannot be underestimated, as it both galvanized the Malian public, and the international community into action, leading to military involvement by France as well as United Nations peacekeepers that quickly restored calm to most of Mali. Musically and ethnically, Mali is an incredibly diverse country. This album reflects that diversity, featuring driving Tuareg grooves rooted in a nomadic Saharan past, generations-old ‘social advice’ songs, Wassoulou music from the south, and of course there are a host of songs from Mali’s next generation of stars.
All the tracks in this treasure trove are either favourites of DJs and collectors but are otherwise unknown, have not yet been released, or have not been digitally reissued before. Unlike most Rough Guides, you may not recognize any names, but that is the point. When you dig deep, the payback is even greater.
In the rarified world of record collecting and the occult historical lore that only an obsessed fan can bring to it, Latin music aficionados can be a fierce bunch, just as fixated with acquiring that exclusive, rare slab of wax as any of their more publicized kin in the larger realms of jazz and soul. Sometimes, amongst this clan of DJs and vinyl hoarders there's a desire to share some nugget of knowledge or special track. Just as often it’s a counter-desire to blow someone’s mind with a cover or original version, or perhaps even stump a fellow collector with some hidden gem that you’ve blown the dust off and brought back to its original lustre. Hopefully a jam they never even knew existed!
While ‘rare groove’ as a genre owes its name to the London scene of the 1980s, it was used largely to describe obscure, hard to find soul, funk or jazz music from the US and was tied in with the world of dance DJs, promoted in the spirit of sourcing music for hip-hop or house music sampling. Latin jazz and to a lesser extent boogaloo was included within this purview, but not particularly salsa or other genres of Latin music. This collection throws a wider net to include not only the required old-school Latin/soul/jazz, but also mambo, salsa, cumbia, descarga and several cuts that are just plain hard to define. From the lesser-known locale of Venezuela, Nelson y Sus Estrellas, Federico y Su Combo Latino and Los Kenyas are sure to surprise and delight. Alfredo Guitiérrez y Los Caporales Del Magdalena, Piper Pimienta y Su Orquesta, and Afrosound represent Colombia, while Mario Allison, Carlos Pickling and Grupo 2000 hail from the recently re-discovered mother-load of Peru. No compilation of this sort would be complete without some sought-after tracks from the US, so we’ve included Joe Quijano, Orchestra Dee Jay and the Gilberto Sextet. Bringing us up to date, you’ll find a healthy portion of contemporary international artists finishing off the set. Spanglish Fly, Los Po-Boy-Citos, Setenta, Rumba Caliente, Los Charly's Orchestra and Ray Lugo all share a strong appreciation for the rare groove aesthetic but are clearly from today’s scene.