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Day 40: Bamako

Michael Palin - SaharaToumani's gentle manner disguises a prodigious energy. He travels the world, then comes back to Bamako to teach (there is an American student with him today), write and record new material, both for himself and for the young Malian musicians he encourages. He becomes most animated as he talks about his latest discoveries, two rappers who call themselves called Les Escrocs, The Crooks. Though American in style, Toumani encourages them to write lyrics that are positive rather than aggressive. So, their first single, which he has produced, is an attempt to spread the message that kids should get an education. This is something that weighs heavily on Toumani.

'If you don't go to school, the poor will always be poor and the rich will always be rich. A country with young people who don't go to school is like a car without an engine.'

He is not hopeful of rapid change, but he is proud of his country. Mali, he says, may be one of the poorest countries in the world, but in its culture and the hospitality of its people it's one of the richest.

Then he plays the kora for me. It's set in a frame support in front of him. He plays, legs astride the base, using only the thumb and forefinger of both hands. A magical sound comes out, midway between that of a harp and a lute. A complex of themes so skilfully interwoven that the music seems to be carrying you effortlessly through a labyrinth of stories and memories. It's soothing and strong at the same time, and hits heart and head with equal power.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 40
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Bamako
  • Book page no: 124

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