Anyway. It was the excessive reverb and poor recording quality that reminded me of some of the finest music I have come across in the past year, from Mali (Senegal's neighbor to the east---and yes I had to consult a map). The Salif Keita record (The Best of the Early Years) I picked up in South Africa last summer has been in heavy rotation on my CD player since. The music is extraordinary. Both the Orchestra Baobab and the Salif Keita records feature a variety of Afro-beat much more laid back and lilting than the overtly political (and wonderful) music of Fela Kuti, who is more well known (and always on fire).
Perhaps there is a tendency to see the low production quality of these recordings as somehow quaint. Not for me. The music shines through, perhaps because with these recordings the music and its messages come first; studio gear and equipment come a distant second. There is bombardment from all sides in all areas of life to keep up to date with one's gadgets, products, accessories, clothes, food, medicine, all that shit. Frequently there is a conviction that a new piece of eequipment, or software, or a better recording, or whatever, will solve a musician's problems. Jazz pioneer Charlie Parker once showed up for a concert without an instrument and ended up performing on a plastic saxophone.
And why not? Some of the greatest music I have ever heard was on the street in Grahamstown, South Africa; a poor family of four busking, with the father playing a worn-out guitar and one of his sons playing a drumset made of rusty oil cans. When I told the kid I liked his drumset he blushed and his friends laughed, as though I was trying to humiliate him. They didn't realize, and I couldn't explain, that here in post modern Europe I can actually find work as a musician utilizing similar equipment (along with cheap microphones and a shitty mixer). Here, playing music on tin cans might seem to be an affectation while for that kid on the street it was a necessity. I play on my cheap equipment because I don't want consumerism to get in the way of my music making, because I don't need fancy equipment, but mostly because the sound I want is the sound I hear.
So. Salif Keita. He's from Mali. And just here on my shelf is a phenomenal book I read a few years ago by Malian author Yambo Ouologuem. Totally unrelated otherwise. Here is my favorite passage from the book (Bound to Violence, 1968)
...the connecting link, they call it. They capture two birds and tie them together. Not too close. The cord is thin, strong, and fairly long. When the birds are released they take flight, they think they are free and rejoice in the wideness of the sky. But suddenly: crack! The cord is stretched taut. They flutter and whirl in all directions, blood drips from their bruised wings [...] Sometimes the cord gets tangled in a branch or twines around the birds, and they struggle as though caught in a trap, peck at each other's eyes beaks, and wings, and if Providence doesn't impale them on a branch, one of them dies before the game is over. Alone. Or with the other. Both of them. Together. Strangled; blinded.Quite a pessimistic view of humankind. But then, I just heard that the asshole who donated thousands of dollars to put the Perfect Example of all That is Wrong with the World (Dick Cheney) in office has apologized for the trouble he caused Cheney by being shot in the face by him!
Mankind is such a bird. We are all victims of the game; separate, but tied together. All of us, without exception.