The outcome of the “Musicians for Mali” benefit concert at the City Winery (NY) September 22, 2012

Text by Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi

Artists reach areas far beyond the reach of politicians. Art, especially entertainment and music, is understood by everybody, and it lifts the spirits and the morale of those who hear it. (Nelson Mandela)

Toubab Krewe  the Africa-inspired band, Afropop Worldwide and the New York based Malian Cultural Center produced the “Musicians for Mali” benefit concert on Saturday September 22nd at the City Winery.

They organized a line up of Malian and American artists to celebrate Malian Independence Day, heighten awareness about the ongoing crisis in Mali, and raise money for refugees. According to Luke Quaranta, the percussionist with Toubab Krewe and the event’s chief organizer, the event raised funds of over $10.000 in support of the non-profit organization Relief International  working with refugees in Niger and the Bamako-based Instruments4Africa which focuses on aiding musicians (and their families) who have fled the North.

The featured artists were:

Toubab Krewe: Some music cannot be found on a map or within iTunes categories. Some music is so original it seems snatched from the great, invisible substrata that runs below all human activity, a sound aching to be born without a flag or fixed allegiance – free, questing, overflowing with tangible life. This is the music of Toubab Krewe. the vibrant Asheville, NC-based powerhouse that creates a sonic Pangaea that lustily swirls together rock, African traditions, jam sensibilities, international folk strains and more. While nearly impossible to put into any box, it takes only a few moments to realize in a very palpable way that one is face-to-face with a true original who recognizes no borders in a march towards a muscular, original, globally switched-on sound.

Balla Kouyate: Balla Kouyate is considered to be among the greatest balafon players in the world today. A virtuoso, he plays two instruments to get a chromatic scale, allowing him to play any genre of music in any key. His speed is astounding as he moves effortlessly between the two balafons, delivering his signature roulements and complex improvisations. Balla has been featured on at least 45 albums, including Angelique Kidjo’s Grammy-nominated ‘Oyo’ and Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning ‘Sounds of Joy and Peace’, and has collaborated with Mamadou Diabate, Susan McKeown, Vusi Mahlasela, Roswell Rudd’s MALIcool ensemble, and Schlicht’s Tempore.

Abdoulaye Alhassane Toure: Abdoulaye Alhassane is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and producer from Mali and Niger. Abdoulaye is a master of the music of many Saharan cultures and languages: Songhai, Sonrai, Tamaschek, Peul, Toureg, Zerma, Hausa, and others. His original music is rich in complex rhythms, beautiful blue modes, and full of joyous enthusiasm.

Oran Etkin: Described as a “great clarinet player” and an “excellent improviser” by the New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, Oran Etkin has performed around the world with musicians ranging from guitarist Mike Stern and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba to rapper Wyclef Jean. Through years of experience in a myriad of musical cultures, Etkin has developed a unique sound on the clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone that draws on ancient traditions from Africa, Israel, New Orleans, and beyond.

Benyoro: In the Bambara language of West Africa, Benyoro means meeting place, and that’s exactly what this group is. It’s about the meeting of traditional and modern instruments, African and American musicians, and centuries-old songs and modern arrangements.

Banning Eyre: Banning Eyre is an author, guitarist, radio producer, and Senior Editor at Afropop. He has been researching and learning African guitar styles for over 20 years, including a seven-month apprenticeship with Malian guitar master Djelimady Tounkara. Eyre has developed an original composition and performance style that incorporates traditions from Mali, Congo, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and beyond, along with his own background in American finger-style guitar. He performs with the band Timbila, and with various musicians playing African music in New York City.

DooBeeDoo hopes that the raised fund will go to the right people and will be used properly. As far as I know the political situation in Mali hasn’t changed that much. It’s still bad and crazy. I really hope that the Malians can solve their domestic problems without the help of the Western World. I believe this is a Malian problem which must be handled by the Malians themselves. Even, if they look helpless from outside, America or European countries shouldn’t try to get them out of the mess. It’s a Malian problem in Africa. So then the only help could only come from the African community or maybe from the UN. (Maybe I’m asking too much from the UN?!)