Archive for May, 2010

Filed Under (Malian culture) by Rob on 24-05-2010

(a) For decoration.
(b) To see what is coming from behind.
(c) To make into a nice triangular shape.
(d) None of the above.

Well, I’m afraid many of Bamako’s 1,000s of motorcyclists would, in fact, opt for any of the above answers but (b). Have a look:

Yes, a significant proportion of motos in the city will have their mirrors pushed up together like this, rendering them useless as rear-view mirrors and thereby jeopardizing their road-safety.

I asked why this was the case and someone told me it was because men consider mirrors to be a ‘girly’ accessory and so any ‘macho man’ would not want to be seen looking in one whilst riding his motorbike!

Whatever the reason, I am sure that lives could be saved and injuries avoided if folk started to use these mirrors for their designed intention!

Filed Under (Things to do in Bamako) by Rob on 20-05-2010

Drive up a hill and admire the city from the top.

Here’s my mate, Clive, admiring the view a few months back, with the Niger River in the distance:

One thing I love about Bamako (especially after Cotonou) is that it has hills and that means views! There are few things more rewarding, I find, than getting to the top of a hill and looking back down on where you’ve just come from.

Now, you could climb the hills, but in hot season this is not a great idea. The views in this post were taken from a place you can drive to, so no need to get hot and dusty in the process. Also, I’m informed that thieves operate in this area, so it may be unwise to leave your vehicle or proceed too far on foot.

To get there, take the road past the National Mali Museum (due to be covered in a supsequent TTDIB) and past the zoo (already done here). As you ascend the hill, you will see a dirt road to your right labelled, I think, “Piste Touristique du Point G” or words to that effect. Take the road (a 4×4 is best for this) and enjoy the view! Here are some more pics from a bit further down the road:

These were taken in December, when it’s a bit dusty, so maybe rainy season is a better time to get a really clear view of the city (as long as the dirt road isn’t too muddy then!)

A thought: you could even do the zoo, the museum and the viewpoint in the same day – now that’s good time-management!!!

Filed Under (Beninese culture, Ethnomusicology) by Rob on 17-05-2010


After a year’s reasearch and a couple of years’ transcribing, analysing and writing-up, Rob’s thesis is finally complete:

The title of the thesis is “The Reclamation of Vodun Song Genres for Christian Worship in the Benin Republic” and looks at how those converting from vodun (voodoo) to Christianity have taken their music with them and modified it for church use. Is this bad for the church? Is there such a thing as evil music? Can a drumbeat alone cause someone to fall into a trance? Will music of vodun origin in church call evil spirits in? What do the vodun folk think about Christians using ‘their’ music?

All of these are issues treated in the thesis (plus many more!) I’ve come to some pretty clear conclusions based on my extensive research in southern Benin, but am not about to share all of those on a blog! You’ll just have to read the finished article when it’s available!

Meanwhile, here are a couple of ‘sneak previews’:

More info will follow in a subsequent post on what I learned – directly and indirectly – in doing this thesis and how this will be of use to my work and to the broader fields of ethnomusicology, anthropology, chuch history and African studies.

Filed Under (Beninese culture, General, Malian culture) by Rob on 12-05-2010

Now, this might not mean anything to folk from other climes, but for those of us who have lived in this part of the world, the term ‘WAWA’ is quite common (and, incidentally, probably not a great name for a hotel).

Let me explain:

* When, for example, the electricity board rips out your meter because it claims your bill should be higher than the reading says: W.A.W.A.!

* Or when the plumbers come to mend the feed pipe to the toilet, but cannot find the stop cock, so turn on every tap in your house in order to reduce the pressure enough to do the job (thereby flooding your bathroom to 4″ deep!) W.A.W.A.!

* Or if I go to the post office to pick up a parcel and they refuse to give it to me – why? Because it’s addressed to me and my wife, and she didn’t come! W.A.W.A.!

* Or when you drive your Land Rover through a HUGE puddle in the road, only to discover there’s an open drain hidden beneath the water and two of your wheels are plunged into it before you can say W.A.W.A.!

So, are you dying to know the significance of this catchy little word? Well, it stands for:


and comes in very useful in frustrating situations. Click here and here for a couple of other bloggers’ take on the phrase.

Now, I don’t want to be too negative about the place; West Africa has many charms and great people. Hearty handshakes, tasty food, fun roads to drive on, great costumes, plenty of sunshine, wonderful languages and warm smiles are just some of the positive aspects of life here.

If you want a more neutral acronym to use on such occasions, then I’d recommend ‘T.I.A.’, meaning ‘This Is Africa’, and, consequently, ANYTHING can happen (and invariably does).

Hey, take a closer look at that photo again – there’s a Big Momma greeting us from behind the sign:

And the thing is, I only noticed her when editing the photo for this blog post! Looks like she had the last laugh, then!

After all, THIS IS AFRICA!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General, Malian culture) by Rob on 09-05-2010

Bamako has to be one of the most musical cities in Africa!

There’s always something musical going on and numerous venues scattered around the city, where you can hear immensely gifted musicians playing on a regular basis! Furthermore, folk are generally happy if you sit down and jam along with them (although it probably helps if you can actually play!)

So, here I am having ‘fun’ and being musical outside the French Cultural Centre in Bamako a while back, with Monsieur Coulibably and Monsieur Traoré (at least, I think those were their names!)

If you want to find some live music, then the French Cultural Centre is a good place to start. Other venues include the ‘Blonba’ in Faladie (where I saw Toumani Diabaté), ‘Le Diplomate’ on the Route de Coulikoro and the Palais de la Culture in Badalabougou Ouest (near the old bridge).

I was at a FREE concert at the CCF the other night and various folk ran up on stage and began dancing in front of the artists performing! This is very common in W Africa and not particularly frowned-upon like is would be in the West. Lots of fun too (although I’ve never plucked up the courage to do it yet…)

Happy music-making!

Filed Under (Ethnomusicology, General, Malian culture) by Rob on 03-05-2010

Is one of Mali’s most prestigious virtuoso Kora players, and I got to see him perform in Bamako recently:

The photo above was taken at said concert, which was a great occasion with some fab playing! His entourage was a band of around 15 people, including guitars, djembe, tamanin, vocalists and the balafon (seen at the bottom of the picture). The only minor disappointment was that, given the size of the band, Toumani himself played relatively few solos, even though most of us had come to here him! Great gig, nonetheless, and definitely worth seeing.

I was surprised, I must confess, to discover that Toumani was only born in 1965, as he seemed much older than that to me. Find out more about him on Wikipedia: here and also click here for his ‘My Space’ page.

UK readers – I see he’s doing a few concerts in ‘Old Blighty’ in the next couple of months, notably:

Belfast on Wednesday 5th May
Minehead on Friday 7th May
The Barbican, London, on 2nd June (info here).
Cheltenham on 5th June

Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay significantly more than the £4.30 (3000 cfa) it cost me to see him in his home country, but still worthwhile if you can afford it!

Finally, here’s a vid of Toumani in action – amazing stuff! Thanks for reading.