NPR Music has been the sole source of my exposure to music from Mali. I have really grown to like its slightly unusual patterns which are all based on a fairly standard rock structure. But unlike some of the other Mali musicians I’ve been exposed to, Diabaten does not play guitar. He plays banjo and the ngoni (but there is plenty of guitar in the song too).
The blurb tells us
Malian tradition lies at the heart and foot-stomping soul of Cheick Hamala Diabate and his band, but their melodies and undeniable rhythms cut across age and ethnicity. Diabate primarily plays the ngoni and the banjo; think of the ngoni as a great-grandfather to the banjo and it all makes sense, because both instruments share the ability to convey melody and plucked percussive rhythm.
Diabate is from Kita in Mali and born into a family of griots, or storytellers; his first cousin is the legendary kora player Toumani Diabate. Cheick Hamala Diabate makes his home these days in a Maryland suburb a few miles over the D.C. line, and his musicians are American-born and inspired by this lively lyrical music, which often tells a tale about Mali and its people as part of the sway and shake.
“Mali De Nou” sounds fairly traditional–with all of the percussion. And then about a minute and half in a noisy scratchy guitar solo plays over all of the music–a very Mali sound. But it’s interesting that, for the beginning anyhow, Diabate isn’t doing all that much. In fact, the song feels almost overwhelmed by percussion (but in a good way). There’s a shaker or two, big floor drums (congas?) and a drum held between the knees and there’s even that big round gourd drum.
There’s also a sax and a bass, the lead guitar and of course, Cheick’s banjo. By the middle of the song, Chieck does some lead banjo playing. And then it sounds like he’s put some effects on the banjo making it sound almost like a kettle drum—he even plays the strings below the bridge. He really gets a lot of cool sounds out of the instrument
After this song he chats briefly and wants to “Invite you guys to visit Mali, it’s a beautiful country, you’ll be more happy.”
For “Talcamba” he switches to the ngoni. He explains that the original ngoni had 4 strings, but his has 7 so he can play…more. This instrument can play reggae, salsa, everything. This is when he says the American banjo is like the grandson of ngoni.
Tacamba is a dance from north Mali—you can move your body (he waves his arms). There are vocals but they are mostly a chanted refrain The solo on the ngoni isn’t a conventional solo, it’s him flicking the strings making a very interesting sound. I could have used more close-ups of this instrument as you could barely see the strings, and I’d love to see how he fit 7 on that small neck. Half way through the song it shifts gears and the tempo really picks up—there’s a fast guitar solo with all that percussion keeping up. And then the percussionist puts down her shaker and starts dancing in the center of the room. It feels inspired and impromptu and it’s a lot of fun to watch. While she’s doing that, Cheick picks up a hand drum and starts creating a new rhythm. It is joyful and celebratory.
For the final song, “Djire Madje,” he switches to acoustic guitar which he plays lefty upside down (so the high notes are at the top). He plays the lead riff. At one point the electric guitar is also playing a lead but in a very different styles and they work very well together.
[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse
I really enjoyed The Terrible Two, and this sequel is just as enjoyable. The pranks are bigger, but the victim has changed. Why?
Because Niles Sparks’ and Miles Murphy’s pranks got their principal fired!
Principal Barkin was the perfect guy to play a prank on–he had no sense of humor, he was pretty jerky and his face got really purple when he was upset. But Principal Barkin is nothing compared to his father. We met his father in the previous book–he yelled a lot, especially at Principal Barkin. You see, the principal’s father was the previous principal, and he was a tough guy–he took no guff from anyone.
So after a delicious opening prank, Niles and Miles set about to making a great prank on Photo Day. One of the great things about these books is the illustrations (by Kevin Cornell). Sometimes the text incorporates the illustrations into the story. Like with Picture Day–the hilariously bad “pictures” absolutely make the sequence. But it’s what they do to Principal Barkin’s son (who has paid the extra $10 for a gray background) is frankly genius.
But even better is what they have done to the whole school photo– a prank many months in the making.