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Why Travel?
By Gregg - 21 Apr, 1999

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Why travel? New York City

Periodically, over the past few days since arriving here in New York from San Francisco, we've joked "why travel when you can simply visit The City and have the world come to you". No visa requirements, no shots - and the trains run on time.

Japanese food one night, Thai the next. Our second night in town we went to see the great Wassoulou singer from Mali, Oumou Sangare. Oumou and her band were in town for one show during their third tour of the States. The Town Hall audience was a diverse group brought together by a common appreciation for the power of this woman's art.

The Wassoulou region has produced a remarkable number of great women singers since Mali gained independence in the early '60s. The music style is based on local dances and rhythms such as the didai, the bari, the sigui and above all the sogonikun, a traditional masked dance performed mainly by young girls during the harvest.

The key traditional instruments of the Wassoulou sound is the kamalengoni ("young man's harp" - as compared with the older man's kora?) and the djembe (drum). In addition to a kamalengoni player (Kassim Sidibe) and a djembe player (Bassidi Keita), Oumou's band included guitar (Mamadou Diakite), flute (Abdouleye Fofana), bass guitar (Hamidou Ba) and two back-up vocalist/dancers (Nabintou Diakite and Alima Toure).

In addition to being a top-notch songwriter and performer, Oumou is a champion of women's rights, a social commentator and a spokesperson for her generation (she's 31) and sex.

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From an article by Andy Morgan as quoted in the program notes from Saturday's performance: "Perhaps the core reason for Wassoulou's national and later international popularity was that it offered people, especially young people, a welcome alternative to the ancient and predominant Malian tradition of the jalis or praise singers. Whereas the jalis sing the praises of important men and the glory of their ancestors, Wassoulou singers tackle everyday concerns in their songs. Whereas the jali direct their praise at a particular individual (usually a pillar of society and community) hoping for a handsome reward, Wassoulou singers sing for everyone with no particular financial reward in mind."

A relatively small number of enthusiastic audience members approached the stage periodically with fists full of cash in appreciation. Oumou would hold the bills for a few moments and then let them fall to the stage. Perhaps this was a small taste of a West African custom. I don't know. But I hope to find out. We're planning to visit Mali and a big draw is the rich musical tradition there.

Another musical hotspot in West Africa is Senegal. Senegal's biggest pop star is Youssou N'Dour who is known for his hot brand of Mbalax. We also plan to visit Senegal and there too, the draw is the music.

So imagine my surprise when, during the intermission of Saturday night's concert, Evelyn showed me a flyer she'd picked up announcing a Youssou N'Dour concert later that night right there in New York!

Why travel when you can simply visit The City and have the world come to you?




Why Travel?

New York
  New York City
  West Africa
    The Gambia
  Middle East
    Palestinian Territories
    Eastern Anatolia
    Central Anatolia
    Pushkar Fair
    Madhya Pradesh
    Uttar Pradesh
    West Bengal
    Sikkim & the NE
    (Rep. of China - Taiwan)
  USA - San Francisco, CA

"If you stand, stand. If you sit, sit. But don't wobble!"
-- Zen Master Ummon
  © 1999/2000 ~ Small feet de-furred.