Sory Bamba Malian music's forgotten great. Flutist, 82, as dedicated to his work today as he was in his younger days.

Sory Bamba, a Malian music pioneer, spends his days ensconced in the courtyard of his home in the old quarter of Mopti, a town in the centre of the country, on the edge of the Sahara.

One of the original modernizers of Mailian music, the 82-year-old infused traditional sounds with funk and jazz. He was also a dedicated talent scout.

But few now remember Sory Bamba in Mali, a conflict-ridden state known to music fans for its strong guitar-playing tradition. Outside, the musician is completely unknown, though connoisseurs insist he belongs among the ranks of Mali's musical icon such as Ali Farka Toure or Salif Keita.

''He is one of the greatest Malian musicians,'' says Cheick Tidiane Seck, a Malian musician himself whose blend of Jazz and traditional music won him renown in the 1990-s.

''But Bamba is not someone who puts himself forward,'' he says, adding that he prioritized ''real music''  over commercial tunes.

BAMBA began his musical career as a child in the late 1940s, when Mali was still a French colony and a friend gifted him a flute. Later, he worked as an assistant to trumpet player in a Mobti band, before making off with his boss's instrument and dedicating himself to music full time.

In 1957, he started his first group, Kanaga de Mpti, which quickly became popular with youngsters in the town. The band found wider success after Mali's independence in 1960, through nationwide musical competitions designed to foster a sense of national identity in the vast country.

Bamba, as a leader of the group, also sought and received rare permission from ethnic Dogon elders to play their traditional music, to which he added his own layers of Latin-jazz funk and folk.

Some dubbed Kanaga de Mopti ''Mali's Pink Floyd.'' But reggae artist Koko Dembele, 66, a former member of the Kanaga de Mopti, said, ''Anything that doesn't evolve is bound to disappear. Sory Bamba has always evolved  by trying to make innovative music.''

Bamba recruited Dembele to his band when the latter was 18 and was known to sour the floodplains of the Niger River and rural camps of nomads for undiscovered musical talent.

Next, Bamba pursued a solo career in Ivory Coast, and then, France, completing 33 tours. He also cut a record titled Du Mali in 1979.

''Without Music, it's all over. And there are so many things left to do,'' he says, resting his flute on his knees. Bamba is just so right! [AFP]


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