Archive for April, 2008

Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 28-04-2008

Q: A googol is the number 1 followed by how many zeros?
(Yes, that’s where they got the idea for ‘Google’.

Answer to last week’s question:

(i) Snickers = Marathon
(ii) Cif = Jif
(iii) Nissan = Datsun

…and the winner was Phil … somebody!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 27-04-2008

Rob flew out of Bamako last night, after an 11 day trip there.

Here are my final ‘musings’ on Bamako/Mali, with four things which sum up my trip in many ways…


Above are two things I liked and two which I did not:

(i) I LOVED the Mercedes Benz 190 D‘s which comprise about half of the taxis in the city. Comfortable to travel in and easy to find!
(ii) I did not like the open drains, which often stink and are a bit of an eyesore, not to mention a breeding ground for mosquitos.
(iii) I loved the music – who wouldn’t? This is the stomping ground of Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita! Home to the kora, the balafon and various other interesting world instruments.
(iv) I didn’t like the extreme HEAT. It climbed to around 40 degrees C at midday, which was a tad warm (that’s me sweating a lot, by the way). However, the dry heat is – in my book – no more (or less) unbearable than high humidity levels at a slightly lower temperature.

Here’s a climate chart for Mali (sorry it’s in Fahrenheit – unless you’re American, in which case, great!) and here’s one for Benin. It’s interesting to note that there is a greater range of temperature in Mali – the lowest temps being lower than here in Benin, but topping out at around 40C is a bit much!

Thanks for reading. More Benin news in a while…

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 22-04-2008

(NB Rob is in Mali at the moment).

Sounds like a normal enough question, but ask any Malian the same question and they’re likely to burst out laughing and/or deny ever eating them…
(Photo of genuine malian beans taken at the market today).

This is part of the joking relationships which exist between different people groups and family names in Mali. The most common family names here include: Diarra, Traoré, Keita and Coulibaly. A Diarra will say that a Traoré eats beans, as a light-hearted put down. The Traoré will deny this and say that it’s the Diarra who are the bean-eaters! It’s like all Smiths saying the Jones’s smell and vice versa!

In fact, when you say: “I bε s×› dun!” (You eat beans!) to a rival group, it has – apparently – to do with flatulance. However, when I asked my Malian students about this, no-one would admit it! It’s all done in good spirit, of course, and seems to have existed for eons.

Still, don’t take my word for it, read Rachel Jones’s doctoral thesis on the subject (yes, I’m not joking this time, you bean eater, you!) The main ‘bean bit’ starts on page 74. Here’s a quote if you’re too busy to look:

“…beans have the annoying property of causing one to bloat and break wind
when one abuses them […] breaking wind in public is the
most unfortunate act […] Thus, beans whose consumption can
lead to being discourteous (in breaking wind) are not sensibly consumed by
any person of quality”.

(From: “You Eat Beans!” © Rachel Jones, Anthropology Department, Macalester College, April 30, 2007)

I tried it out today at the market, causing much hilarity. Non-Malians also tend to ‘adopt’ a family name for themselves, so I’ve elected to be a Traoré (I know 3 Traoré’s already and they’re all nice people!) So, the conversation (after the inevitable initial “how are you” greetings) would generally go like this:

Malian: Are you a Diarra?
Rob: No, I’m a Traoré. And you?
Malian: I’m a Diarra.
Rob: (in local language): You eat beans!
Malian: (Laughs & shakes my hand): No, my friend. It’s the Traoré who eat beans, not the Diarra.
Rob: That’s not true! The Diarra are the bean-eaters, everyone knows that.
Malian: No Рyou Traor̩ are the biggest bean-eaters!

…and so on. It’s great fun once you get the hang of it. Increadible that this is a national joke based on farting!

There you go – I couldn’t resist sharing this wee anthropological gem with you all!

Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 21-04-2008

Q: On a similar theme to last week, what did the following products use to be called:

(i) Snickers
(ii) Cif
(iii) Nissan

Answer to last week’s question: Upper Volta = Burkina Faso, Rhodesia = Zimbabwe, Dahomey = Benin (hope you got that one at least!!) and Abyssinia = Ethiopia.

And the winner was (AT LONG LAST!) the incredible, inimitable TIM SLADE. Well done, me ol’ zem shirt-wearing buddy!

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 19-04-2008

Rob finally made it into the city centre of Bamako today and enjoyed his visit (apart from the blistering heat…)

(NB If you’ve not read the previous post and/or don’t know your African capitals, Bamako is not in Benin!!)

I caught a yellow VW Golf taxi over the River Niger and to the Artisan centre, where they had lots of great souvenirs, including plenty musical instruments:


Of course, there was the usual “Venez regarder, mon ami.” or “Ca fait longtemps!” from the sellers, but they were less agressive than in some places. In fact, at one point, one of the salesmen said to the others “Stop bothering the foreigner!” Unheard of!

The main streets are well paved and pothole free and there are some dual carriageways. Traffic flows fairly well, except for rush hour, when it’s total mayhem, I’m told. There are even decorative grassy bits inbetween carriageways and lots of nice monuments:


The absence of zemidjans is immediately obvious. Instead of motorbike taxis, Bamako has the only slightly safer “sotrama” minibuses. Here is a gaggle of them:


(“Sotrama” stands for Societé de Transports du Mali, or something similar).

The taxis are all yellow, then there are private cars too, of course.

(Wait a minute! Isn’t that a Merc and a BMW?! Bit posh, eh?)

If you want to know more about Mali, click here for a great account of journeys made here by an American lass. Also, here’s an exhaustive information page containing just about everything you’ll ever need to know about living in Mali. If you’ve got an hour to spare, it’s worth a read.

More malian musings next week…

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 16-04-2008

Rob has made it to Bamako, Mali, for the first time, but is gutted that Timbuktu is too for for a weekend visit!

As I only arrived yesterday (Wednesday) I’ve not seen much of the place, but I like what I have seen. Above is the view of the Niger River, taken from where I’m staying. Here’s the same view during the day (surprisingly green for a semi-desert country in dry season):


I’m here teaching an ethnomusicology course to – somewhat bizarrely – a load of Cameroonians! There were a couple of Malians there too, mind. They’re altogether a great bunch of people – I think we’ll have lots of fun together as well as them learning stuff.

Walking round the streets of Bamako, my first reactions are as follows:

* Hardly anyone calls out to you or pesters you (much more frequent back home).
* Most of the drains are open ones, and quite rancid (yuck).
* It’s not as poor as I had expected (at least not in this quartier).
* There are NO zemidjans, but tonnes of bottle green bush taxis which circulate in the city, crammed with passengers.
* The houses have numbers and so do the streets here (what a novel idea!)
* It’s BOILING HOT here, but much drier. That said, we had a short thunder storm tonight.
* Lots more of those round hats on heads here.
* There seems to be music constantly blaring from several locations nearby. In fact, I had the somewhat surreal experience of hearing Jamie Cullum’s rendition of What a difference a day makes piped through my window earlier this evening…

In case you’re interested, here’s my appartment and bedroom here:


…and apart from that, this is about all I’ve seen of Bamako so far:


More news & photos soon, I hope!

Filed Under (General, Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 14-04-2008

Q: A four part question this time. Here are the former names of some African countries. What are they called now?

(i) Upper Volta
(ii) Rhodesia
(iii) Dahomey
(iv) Abyssinia

Answer to last week’s question: The Nepalese Flag is not rectangular
the winner was the incredible Mr Tom Ferguson, followed – somewhat uncannily – by the legendary Debbie Hatfield.
Ben Griffin had a bash too, but was a tad late (hey – I see a pattern here – the time zones are helping those further east to win!!)

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General) by Rob on 13-04-2008

A few months ago, Rob spent some time in the remote village of Bago in Togo…

Here’s a typical courtyard scene in this poor yet enchanting village:


Little was known about its music, so Rob was drafted in to find out more. It was intriguing to find out early on that, although the village only has a couple of thousand inhabitants, it is divided into six separate quartiers or neighbourhoods. I couldn’t tell where one started and the other ended, but all the locals knew. Each of these neighbourhoods was a separate ‘clan’, each of which settled in Bago from other parts of West Africa. The Bago-Koussountou language has therefore developed almost like a creole – as a blend of the languages of all six ethnic groups. In fact, this can be seen in the language’s classification, which is as follows:

Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, North, Gur, Central, Southern, Grusi, Eastern

Wow! What variety! So, the first job was to find out which instruments are used and also which song genres exist in the village. This included doing some observation and recording at night time, which was very atmospheric and lots of fun!


Here’s what I discovered:


Following all this research, I recorded a good number of songs using the traditional styles. This was both for archiving purposes as well as to encourage the usage of traditional music. Cassettes have been made and folk are enjoying them.

Here are some of the Bago instruments: TL: The Gbale (or double cow bell), TR: the Sakasse – a gourd with shaky bits round the outside, BL: the Okoyise – two gourds floating in water and hit with sticks, and BR: the Lunga, also known as a talking drum or griot drum.


Finally, here are a couple of YouTube vids of the Bago folk digging their local beats:

1. Performing in the village square

2. A fascinating ladies’ circle dance involving pagnes.

3. A toothless old bloke does some impressive drumming with and without a stick.

Filed Under (Trivia Question of the Week) by Rob on 07-04-2008

Q:Which country is the only one to have a flag which is not rectangular?
(And I don’t mean Switzerland, because a square is also a rectangle!)

Answer to last week’s question: Paul McCartney’s first name is James and Paul his middle name.

Filed Under (General) by Rob on 03-04-2008

(Definitely NOT an April fool this time)

On Tuesday afternoon, thieves armed with AK-47s and machine guns attempted a bank robbery in Dantokpa Market, Cotonou.
Dantokpa from bridge

Scary stuff indeed, and two police offices were purportedly killed in the event. The robbers arrived on speedboats, as the Market is next to the lagoon (which is what TÉ”kpa means in FÉ”n). A British friend of ours was crossing the lagoon at that moment and heard gunfire and saw loads of people running towards him. He quickly drove off in the other direction – a close call, I think.

Enough from me – read Vincent’s expertly-written and detailed account of proceedings. Here’s a shorter article about it, if you’ve only got 30 seconds to spare.
Et voici des articles en français sur le braquage au Marché Dantokpa du premier Avril. Article dans l’@raignée Article dans Option Infos