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WOMAD Charlton Park 2017: The weekend ahead

Posted on July 25th, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .

Photography by Suzie Blake

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Oumou Sangaré, Inna de Yard, Toots & the Maytals, Eliza Carthy, the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians and many more perform at WOMAD Charlton Park this weekend

With just days to go until the UK’s premier world music gathering, the Songlines team are gearing up for four days of festivities at WOMAD Charlton Park. Another fantastic line-up awaits as a multitude of artists from around the globe will take to the stage, including the legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo, roots Reggae collective Inna de Yard, folk singer-songwriter Eliza Carthy, the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, and a welcome return from Malian superstar Oumou Sangaré. Renowned as an event for all ages, a range of family-friendly activities are also on offer, including tree climbing sessions, yoga, music workshops and, new for 2017, the Giant Wheel at WOMAD. 

If you’re not able to make it, you can keep up-to-date with the latest news and events by following the Songlines team on Twitter and Facebook. To view the full line-up, visit or download the free WOMAD mobile app.

Once again we’ve partnered with independent record store Rise and will be hosting artists signings for the Siam and Open Air stages. Artists confirmed include Michael League and Malika Tirolien’s new supergroup Bokanté, Ghanaian master drummers Kakatsitsi, members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Mexican/American cumbia collective Orkesta Mendoza. You can download your own artist CD signing timetable here.


You can download your own artist CD signing timetable here.


And don’t forget that we’ll be selling copies of The Guardian and Observer throughout the festival (Fri-Sun inclusive) from both Songlines stands (next to the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillett Stage and inside the Rise Records shop), so be sure to drop by for a morning chat with the team!

Below are some of the acts we are looking forward to the most, and an exclusive Apple Music and Spotify playlist to give you a taste of what’s to come.


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Creole Exchanges: Michael League and Malika Tirolien on Bokanté

Posted on July 24th, 2017 in Features, Live, Recent posts by .


Photo by François Bisi

Jane Cornwell speaks to Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and singer Malika Tirolien about their latest supergroup Bokanté, who are set to be making waves this summer.

This article originally appeared in Songlines July #129. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

Michael League has never formed another band in the 14 years since he founded Snarky Puppy. For who needs a side project when your Grammy-winning, Texas-bred, New York-based, improvisational instrumental jazz collective is an active collaborator, working with the likes of the Dutch Metropole Orchestra and releasing albums that feature such special guests as Peruvian diva Susana Baca, Americana icon David Crosby and the Malian Caruso, Salif Keita? Serendipity, however, works in mysterious ways – and Bokanté, which means ‘Exchange’ in Creole, feels like it was meant to be.

“I record ideas on my phone all the time,” says the slight, bearded League, sitting backstage at a sunlit WOMADelaide in March. “Melody, groove, rhythm, bassline, whatever; I’ve been doing it for about five years. When I eventually listened back to them I thought, wow, there’s a lot of stuff with the same sound.” A Delta-meets-desert sound that he is reluctant to define: “This band [Bokanté] marries a lot of my interests. I grew up loving American blues and Led Zeppelin and different blues formats, and over the last five years I’ve been getting deep into West African music. Bassekou Kouyaté, Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, Tinariwen,” he pauses and smiles. “I started thinking that I should put a band together that plays this sort of stuff. A band with a singer, a bunch of guitars and a bunch of percussionists but no [kit] drums, horns or keyboards.” In other words, a band that was nothing like Snarky Puppy.

Bokanté’s outing at WOMADelaide was only their third public gig. Some in the appreciative crowd made comparisons to Talking Heads, King Crimson and Meshell Ndegeocello; to this observer they sounded like no one else. Their performance was tighter and more accomplished than any band with very little rehearsal might dare to imagine, much of which can be explained by the calibre of musicians in the line-up (acclaimed in some quarters as a ‘super group’). There is League, swapping his bass for baritone guitar, along with Snarky guitarists Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti and Miami-based pedal steel virtuoso Roosevelt Collier, seated centre-stage, a slide guitar set across his knees.

On percussion, there is Keita Ogawa – Nagasaki-raised, Riotrained, a veteran of orchestras including the London Symphony, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the group belonging to superstar cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. On more percussion, the multi-awardwinning Jamey Haddad, an ex-Berklee College music professor and longtime rhythm man for Paul Simon and Sting. On the third and final set of percussion, André Ferrari, a mohawked Swede whose innovative flourishes – handfuls of bells, Gnawa qaraqab (metal castanets), frame drums played face down – are a trademark of Swedish folk outfit Väsen, and whose self-penned ‘Shapons Vindaloo’ is the first track that Snarky Puppy ever recorded. “André is one of the most unique percussionists I’ve met,” says League. “Nothing he uses is conventional.” The bass guitarist, just for WOMADelaide, was Paul Bender of cult Australian space-jazzers Hiatus Kaiyote. The bass guitar slot will remain open, with bassists cherry-picked locally; the bassist for the UK tour is yet to be decided.

“One of the things I love about Snarky Puppy is we always have new musical personalities contributing. With Bokanté the bass chair will be that thing.”

Then there is Bokanté’s pièce de résistance: Malika Tirolien, a charismatic Montréal-based Guadeloupian vocalist who sings mainly in Creole, in a honeyed voice that hits the spot and then some. It was the creative exchanges between Tirolien and League that fleshed out the ideas on the latter’s iPhone: “I would send Malika the music and a lyrical concept that was socially conscious, to do with individual and social struggles.” More specifically, about strife and success, racism, apathy and the refugee crisis; hopes for peace and unity. “She would write the lyrics and melody, demo the song and send it back.”

Trained in classical piano and jazz, Tirolien was fronting a hip-hop leaning outfit called Groundfood that supported Snarky Puppy in Québec, and blew League and his band mates away. “Our whole band were like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’” says League of Tirolien, who is here at our table underneath a spreading Moreton Bay fig tree, and laughing good-naturedly. “She was singing beautifully in three languages, then she’d improvise, then she’d rap in Creole.”

The French-based Creole language has a percussive flow, they say, that lends Bokanté another dimension. “It is beautiful but it can be really rough sounding too,” says Tirolien with a grin. “If you want to insult someone, it’s fantastic.”

Her dialect is particular to Guadeloupe, and not dissimilar to that of the neighbouring Caribbean island of Martinique. Of the ten songs on Bokanté’s debut album Strange Circles, two are in French (‘Heritier’ asks us to think about the legacy we are leaving the next generation) and the rest are delivered in Creole. Tirolien has the gift of conveying real emotion, even if we don’t exactly understand what it is she’s saying.

“We tried one song in English when we were recording [at the legendary Dreamlands Studio in New York] and were like, ‘No!!’” twinkles League. “It’s kind of like when you hear certain styles of music sung in different languages, flamenco sung in English, for example, and it feels wrong. For some weird reason for this band Creole works perfectly.”

While Tirolien, Collier, Haddad, Ferrari and Ogawa have all collaborated individually on Snarky Puppy projects, most notably on the Family Dinner recording sessions, many of the musicians in Bokanté hadn’t met until the first day of their week-long recording. Establishing a sense of unity was paramount: “The ensemble is multilingual, multicultural and multi-generational but we all feel connected as musicians and people. This combination of different accents gives a strangely common and poignant sound, a sound that can reach and relate to listeners around the world.”

Asked to file Bokanté under a genre, and League and Tirolien spar good-humouredly. Jazz? Rock? They shake their heads. League wants to call them a blues band but Tirolien doesn’t; the folky Gwo-ka rhythms from Guadeloupe and the three sets of percussion, she argues, are almost blues averse. From a guitar perspective, counters League, the root of Bokanté’s music is African, Delta blues and rock; ergo, the music of the blues.

“A lot of this stuff is so rich harmonically,” he says. “I think of the guitars like percussion instruments or voices; at any moment the guitars are playing something very rhythmic and short and groovy or else long slide melodies and harmonies in the same way as singers. The way I think of the band is having two singers: Malika and the guitars including Roosevelt.” They settle, reluctantly, on ‘world’ (“We’d rather not file us under anything”), what with Ogawa hailing from Japan, Ferrari from Sweden and the Lebanese-American Haddad having studied Karnatic traditions in South India among other musical pursuits including building his own instruments (“I’m a jazz musician who jumped the fence,” Haddad has said).

Bokanté’s one-love vibe tips over into songs such as ‘Nou Tout Sé Yonn’, which means ‘Remember We are One’ and ‘O La’, a song-come-fable about a lost man who is welcomed into a remote house and shown great hospitality before killing the owner and taking over, building a wall to keep people out. “One night comes a knock on a door and a cry of ‘I’m lost, can you help me?’” says Tirolien, who wrote it. Karma, it seems to be saying, is a bitch.

Tirolien flashes a grin. “This is why we called our album Strange Circles,” she says. “What goes around comes around.”

“It really does,” says League. “You’ll see.”

This article originally appeared in Songlines July #129. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

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Régis Gizavo (1959 -2017)

Posted on July 21st, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .

Régis Gizavo

Régis Gizavo © C. Paes / Laterite productions, photo extradite de “Songs for Madagascar”

Words by Ulrike Hanna Meinhof

One of the most important and best-loved musicians from Madagascar, the brilliant accordionist, songwriter and singer Régis Gizavo died of a heart attack on July 16. It happened during a concert in Corsica where he was performing with the Corsican group Alba. He was due to play with Toko Telo at WOMAD Charlton Park next week.

Gizavo was born in Tulear in the South-West of Madagascar, from where he made his way to the capital Antananarivo. There he recorded his first songs for which in 1990 he received the coveted ‘Prix Decouvertes’ of the French radio station RFI. Regis talked amusingly about how he suddenly saw himself on a clip shown on public tv, not having realised till that moment that he had won the prize and that his adventure to Europe was about to begin. He recorded five albums, one of which, with Louis Mhlanga and David Mirandon, was a Top of the World in 2006 (Songlines #40).

Since 1990 he lived in France, performing worldwide as a solo artist, but also with other musicians such as the Corsican group I Muvrini, the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora, and the Brazilian singer Lenine, to name but a few. Since 2006 he was a member of the illustrious Madagascar All Stars, comprising musicians from diverse regions of the country who memorably performed at Songlines Encounters in 2012. Losing Gizavo, with his extraordinary music, his unbounding energy, his infectious laugh, his great pleasure in life and his deep and lasting friendship, will leave a terrible gap.

This is evident in the feature documentary Songs for Madagascar, directed by Cesar Paes from Laterit productions in Paris, which has only just opened in French cinemas after its first screenings at international film festivals. It shows Gizavo talking about his life, rehearsing with his musician friends, performing songs such as ‘Malaso’, an indictment of the local bandits who steal zebu cattle from poor peasants, and a song about the drongo bird whose black colour the song celebrates alongside all the other colours in the world – a typically subtle reminder of how mixed we all are. He will be missed in Madagascar, in France and around the world.

Gizavo was only 58 years old and leaves a wife and a young son at their home in Paris.

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Oumou Sangaré: Mali’s muse

Posted on July 18th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Malian diva Oumou Sangaré is making a long-awaited comeback. Pierre Cuny speaks to her about returning to the recording studio and the themes that inspire her songs

Over the years, the reputation of Oumou Sangaré, one of the greatest living Malian singers, has grown from a socially conscious local artist to a leading African public figure. Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation and a prosperous businesswoman, Oumou has continually maintained the flame of rebellion against injustices. It has always been via music that this figure of African women’s emancipation has transmitted her ideals.

Ever since the elegant reissue last year of Oumou’s successful 1990 recording Moussolou on World Circuit, it was common knowledge in Mali that her new album was on the point of coming out. For fans of the African diva, it was going to be a huge event – not only in Mali but also throughout the continent.

Together with Laurent Bizot, head of No Format!, the French label she has chosen to produce her new musical adventure, Mogoya, Oumou decided to completely shake up her soundscape – very much a conscious decision. She explains: “I selected No Format because they have operated with a large number of African musicians. Laurent has worked for several years with Salif Keita, he knows Malian music very well and he loves black music.” The label also works with other Malian virtuosos such as the supreme kora player Ballaké Sissoko and griot singer Kassé Mady Diabaté, a national treasure in Mali. “Happily, relations with World Circuit and Nick Gold remain solid and we are in complete agreement with this change,” smiles Oumou. Four outstanding albums were produced during 1993 to 2009 with World Circuit, as well as a double-CD compilation, which was released in 2003.

Taking the tapes on which she had been working over the past two years with Swedish producer and bass player Andreas Unge, Oumou travelled to the northern suburb of Paris and met with the three studio magicians who make up the collective known as A.L.B.E.R.T. In their studio jam-packed with sound equipment resembling something like Ali Baba’s cave, the young French musician-producers Vincent Taeger, Vincent Taurelle and Ludovic Bruni had recently completed the last Tony Allen album among other luminaries.

On the strength of her melodies, lyrics and voice alone, the team went to work. Maintaining the essential kamalengoni of Benogo Diakité, the electric guitar of Guimba Kouyaté and occasional drums of Tony Allen, they totally remixed and played over the tapes. Oumou was ecstatic and pushed them to continue. “We did not want Mogoya to sound like something which could have been produced in 1998 or 2000,” explains Bizot. The three musicians advanced with feeling and when they saw that Oumou was confident – telling them to “go for it boys” – they knew they had got it. The result is an album sprinkled with judicious sound effects that creative DJs will undoubtedly be playing to heat up dance floors across the world.

The kamalengoni (or ‘young man’s harp’) propels the sound. This eight-stringed instrument, based on the original Wassoulou ritual hunter’s harp, is the soul of Oumou’s music and her melodies are all accompanied by it. In her concerts Oumou constantly has her eye on the kamalengoni. “Village youngsters who love the rough sound can do anything with it: reggae, funk, rap or blues,” she explains, adding, “good thing that the A.L.B.E.R.T. collective decided to place this instrument in prime position on most of the tracks.”

Clearly in great form, Oumou is holding court at the intimate offices of No Format. With her natural majestic allure, this great lady breathes serenity and goodwill. Actively engaged in international citizen movements and at the head of several successful businesses around Bamako, she still maintains a mischievous, childlike spirit. Her laugh resounds frequently and as she evokes each of her songs you can hear her humming the melodies. Time passes in a most delicious manner.

Eight years have passed since her last studio album, Seya. As Oumou herself explains: “I prepare each song quietly to avoid the stress and take time to think. When my new albums are under preparation, the pressure is unimaginable; everyone is asking, when will it be ready? What will be the theme? My words are extremely important for my fans and so I take time so as not to disappoint them. I create by crafting and caring for my lyrics and do not rush. They are inside of me. At the same time, I have many business occupations: I built a hotel in Bamako, which I manage once again due to the disorder of the team while I was travelling. I also have a large livestock farm with many employees, rice fields and a fish farm, as well as a car dealership. All this while touring incessantly throughout Africa. So I prepare my material slowly avoiding stress and giving me time to think. That is why it has taken so long.”

So that equates to almost one year of work for each of the nine songs on this ambitious album. Like a sage, Oumou’s words offer advice and motivation. She sees her role as trying to diffuse tensions in her country. “I am a Muslim, but certainly not fundamentalist,” she asserts. “I believe in God and respect all other religions and all human beings. I don’t understand the radicalised Muslims. One must respect each other. The songs I write are taken from events in society, events which disturb.”

Despite recent multiple terrorist attacks, Oumou accepted to be godmother to Wassoulou-Ballé, a music festival situated 240km from Bamako. “Our role as an artist is to be with the population, at their side during the most troubled times. Terrorism is at the forefront of everyone’s minds but we must continue to live. Despite the turbulent current situation in Mali, music remains a standing force.”

Speaking of the lyrics featured on Mogoya, which translates as ‘Human Relations Today,’ Oumou describes what she knows best. She is very affected by the tribulations of daily life and specific problems women in Africa face, urging them to overcome their suffering and enjoy life to the full.

One of the most emotional songs on the album is ‘Yere Faga’, sung in Bamana, the vernacular language in Mali. It means suicide. “Suicide has always existed in my country,” she states, “but it is a phenomenon which is increasing alarmingly. People seem to have more and more difficulties that they find overwhelming. I try to tell them to be stronger than the problems and counteract them full on. I have had to face millions of problems in my life, heard so many lies and rumours about myself. I say to people, take example from me and remain strong. The problems will always go away.”

Oumou herself has clearly not been spared from her share of life’s difficulties. Abandoned by her father at a very young age, she possesses a burning ambition to honour her mother who brought up a family of six with no help whatsoever. “My mother – I owe her everything! The force that is in me comes from this brave woman. When my father walked out and went to live in Ivory Coast, it was a catastrophe for us. My mother said to me: ‘Oumou, I have fought alone without compromise, I never sold myself or dirtied my children. I believe in me and in God. It has been so hard but I fought’.” On another very moving song on the album, ‘Minata Waraba’ (Minata the Lioness), Oumou pays homage to her mother, Aminata Diakité.

It was through her mother that Oumou, as a very young child, came to sing. She would accompany her mother at local weddings and baptisms, where Aminata was invited to sing at the ritual services, called soumous. At the age of five, Oumou’s gifted voice, with its strength and clarity, was already the centrepiece of the ceremony. “I had this energy while singing and people would give me money; it would pour from all sides like rain, like an act of God,” she recalls. “I would run home with my T-shirt stuffed with banknotes for my mother!”


Oumou was born in Bamako to a Peul family originating from the forested region of Wassoulou in the south-west of Mali bordering Guinea and Ivory Coast. “Everything was Wassoulou in my home: the mentality, the language, the food,” she says. Her music has a strong connection to the traditions of the brotherhood of hunters of Wassoulou and is primordial in its mentality. It was these same hunters who liberated the country from the oppression of tyranny at the beginning of the 13th century. Their philosophy of freedom centred around their declaration that ‘man is an individual, he is free, his soul lives for three elements: to see what he wants to see, to say what he wants to say, to do what he wants to do.’ This was the basis of the Mande Charter, one of the most ancient constitutions, that dates from the same period as the Magna Carta. The singularity of Oumou is to claim that all Malian women should access this freedom of speech and have the liberty to say no to polygamy and yes to school education.

At the age of 21, Oumou hit the country by storm with her first record, Moussolou. Two of the tracks completely shocked the population of Mali. It was the first time that a female singer had spoken out so freely: ‘Diya Gneba’ encourages women to refuse forced marriage and ‘Diaraby Nene’ openly addresses female desire. Where, I wonder, does this desire for freedom of speech come from? “I am not a griot,” she explains. “A griot addresses only noble or wealthy families. I speak to everyone through my songs, rich or poor, man or woman. I have the right to do it!”

“Women in Mali are traumatised by some of the traditions, such as excision [FGM],” she continues. “It is impossible to make rapid changes to this system and I have to go slowly, explaining and talking regularly about the risks and the suffering that is caused. Everything is done softly and in songs. It is in this way that I am gaining the confidence of women. Once completed, they will stop these traditions. I have faced a lot of social pressure because of this, but things are changing. People are following me now and supporting me.”

As we head into a recording room to listen to her new opus, Oumou beams and whispers “for the moment I dream that Mogoya is played simply in local clubs. The African youth need these sounds to move, to dance!”

On an almost-deserted parking lot outside of Paris, Bizot and his No Format team are speaking of Oumou when a local youth overhears and comes over. “Oumou? Are you speaking about Oumou Sangaré?” Bizot replies, “Yes, we are working on her new album.” Holding his hand gently to his heart, the youth exclaims, “but this is fantastic! Oumou Sangaré is the queen!”

This article originally appeared in Songlines #127. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit:

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