Album Review: Various Artists – Every Song Has Its End: Sonic Dispatches From Traditional Mali – CD+DVD [Glitterbeat Records, 1st April 2016]

Mali’s profile on the global music scene has been rising for years, producing any number of internationally renowned artists. Featured on this album is singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum, a notable example of one such musician, but the overall focus of Every Song Has Its End is not on global superstars, rather the traditional practices of rural areas. These form the roots of Mali’s artistic heritage, traditions which in many cases are dwindling as younger generations move towards the larger towns and cities.

On this album we are treated to 12 tracks selected from the archive of Bamako based producer Paul Chandler, who has been documenting Malian traditions for the past few years, and it is refreshing to hear some relatively raw (but high quality) field recordings rather than studio productions. They range from an intimate solo voice and simbi performance from Sidiki Coulibaly on ‘Donzo Fasa’, to two tracks that are almost soundscapes (‘Apolo’ and ‘Sigui Iè’) placing the listener amongst the ceremonies and rituals that are inseparable from the music.

Other highlights include ‘N’Djaba’, a gorgeous recording of Bambara musicians Bina Koumaré & Madou Diabate with n’goni and calabash bubbling along effortlessly as vocals and fiddle interweave and float over the top, and the spine-tingling Malinke warrior’s music sung by Ibrahim Traoré accompanying himself on the Mandinka bolon. In one of the 11 videos on the DVD Traoré describes the bolon as “an instrument of the warrior kings of Mandé”, and with visible emotion tells of the instruments’ rise and fall (by his account he is the only player remaining in Mali) and its close historical associations with war and bloodshed. This had me transfixed, and in this respect the videos help to clarify Chandler’s rationale in bringing this collection together.

Through watching and listening to these tradition bearers we get a real feeling of the weight of generations behind their music, and the emotions and significance attached to it in the present. Individually then each track is a gem, and bringing them together has resulted in an excellent collection, showcasing some wonderful artists and highlighting the contemporary relevance of traditional art forms.