By Marc Bruner
Mamadou Sidibe played a groundbreaking role in transforming Malian popular music. He was one of the first to break with tradition by adopting the now-widely used kamalen n'goni, a lute-harp-like instrument that exudes a deep, soulful sound. The kamalen n'goni was formed by adding a couple of strings to the traditional hunter's lute, the dozon n'goni, to expand the instrument's range and to give it a more varied and open sound. Mamadou also inspried Malian musicians to sing about everyday life, instead of traditional spiritual and hunters' songs.
Mamadou now lives in California with his wife, Vanessa, a talented and accomplished musician in her own right. Together, they produce music that is at once profound and bluesy, but also remarkably soothing and uplifting. Their album Nacoma is a pure delight, offering listeners a fresh and vibrant take on West African traditions. In 2006, the pair were honored with awards at the Independent Music Awards and the Billboard World Music Songwriting Contest.
I saw them live last night in Berkeley and it was a fantastic performance -- hours of music that nourished my soul and got me out of my chair and onto the dancefloor. The best part was watching Mamadou on his knees jam away on one of his beloved instruments, which was wrapped in the colors of the Malian flag. Not a scene I will soon forget.
For more about Mamadou and Vanessa, click here or here or here.