Anansy Cissé: Mali Overdrive

The serendipitous path that lead Riverboat Records to release Mali Overdrive involved the sheer determination and iron will of a good friend, a vintage hoard of bootlegged rock and roll records (more on that later) and of course, Anansy Cissé’s unfettered talent.

When Cissé’s recording ‘Baala’ landed on our website via World Music Network’s online ‘Battle Of The Bands’ competition, we were immediately taken by his souped-up guitar distortions that sucked up all the brilliant aspects of the well-trodden West African Desert Blues and spat them out with a new, agitated attitude. 

Now a resident blues bad-boy in Bamako, when Cissé lived in Diré he ran his own recording studio. Based out of his home, he recorded young musicians from his region often adding auto-tune to the vocals and programming backing tracks to the mixes. Cissé’s own style however embraces a more untreated sound, his thickly-cut guitar tone coursing through his arrangements. In late 2012, Cissé was forced to dismantle his studio following the invasion of Mali’s northern regions by militant Islamists, many of whom are opposed to secular music-making. The poignant track ‘Gomni’ calls for peace across Mali and is a reminder of the despair felt by many at the concerning political divisions and connected social reverberations caused by religious tension in the Northern region. Forced to relocate further south, Cissé headed to the beating heart of Mali’s capital city.

In Bamako, Cissé happened to meet Philippe Sanmiguel who is now his percussionist and manager. Together they began to lay down some tracks at a makeshift studio. One day before Cissé’s arrival to the studio, Philippe turned on his new friend’s computer and was shocked to find a veritable trove of well-penned songs noted down. In Cissé’s mind however, these gems were better off performed by others – he simply enjoyed working for other people, gifting them his words, melodies and guitar lines. After some quick-thinking and well-advised persuasion Philippe convinced Cissé to go it alone and record an album of these compositions himself.

Cissé called on a few friends to add to the musical pot: esteemed ngoni player Djimé Sissoko laid down some riffs, Abdramane Touré took to the bass and Mahalmadane Traoré found time to slap and smack his calabash. This album also features the mesmerizing soku fiddle playing of Zoumana Tereta, who has worked as producer, band leader and a sideman contributing his sound to many of Mali’s most famous artists including Bassekou Kouyaté, Nahawa Doumbia, Oumou Sangare, and Toumani Diabate. In just three months, seven songs had taken shape but Anansy Cissé was still filled with doubt that anyone would buy into his musical vision. The infinite possibilities of the internet soon set this fear aside though – Cissé’s social media following blossomed with ease, allowing him a platform into the international world music scene. 

Presently, Cissé lives in the Faladié district of Bamako and is steadily working on more material. In the corners of his small room, vast towering piles of Nigerian bootleg CDs peer down on visiting musicians, providing a clue to Cissé’s inspirations: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are all represented. Having sourced the random array of reproduced records, Cissé soaked up every release without prejudice or expectation.

Equal stimulation for his songs, text and rhythm is drawn from traditional Fulani and Songhai music. The ngoni and calabash are heard throughout and the themes of the songs cover social issues, love songs, dance themes and tributes to Malian history. ‘Sekou Amadou’ pays tribute to the leader and founder of the Fulani Empire of Macina. The end of the track features a poignant sampling of a speech by the late Nelson Mandela. ‘Horey’ is a takamba song from Gao and Timbuktu. The rhythm is historically linked to the Songhai nobility but electrified and re-energised in Cissé’s version.

In the often-polarised world music community, young African musicians are often either too hastily dismissed as local pop stars who have no international appeal or as authentic saviours in a misplaced quest for authenticity. Now, proudly ramping up the volume and fearlessly taking Malian music into overdrive is Anansy Cissé – a pioneer of new music that champions ancient tradition and uncharted modernity at once. 

Track Information

Baala
Nothing comes easily in life. You have to deserve what you get. Crime and traffic won’t lead you to happiness, but are only paths to violence and desolation. Widespread corruption at all levels is the cause of such social injustice in the country. This is a song of awareness, speaking about the virtues of work and honesty.

Fati Ka
'I just can’t forget Fati. I dream of her in the day and lie awake to her thought through the night. I beg you Fati, come back. For months you have left me alone. I’ve never replaced you, come back, you're already forgiven.'

Aïgouna
This song is a tribute to all the Fulani people of Mali, north to south. It makes reference to those cities with a dense Fulani population (Mopti, Diré, Ségou, Gao) and to major names of the Fulani people in Mali (Cissé, Dicko, Sidibé, Diakité, Barry).

Sekou Amadou
Sekou Amadou was a great marabout. A natural leader, teacher and the founder of the Fulani Empire of Macina. Through this song we pay him tribute. It is a song of gratitude to great men and the builders of nations, rallying people to these men of honour, who have worked through the centuries towards the independence of their people.

At the end you can hear a speech by Nelson Mandela:

'During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.' Nelson Mandela - April 20, 1964 at the opening of his defense in the 1964 trial.

Wamassiheme
Do not cry! It is a song to comfort sad friends with a joyful melody, to encourage them to dance and let their troubles leave them for the moment.

Agobene
Nothing is eternal, neither joy nor sorrow. Let's enjoy the good times and not be disheartened by difficulties.

Alhamidou
The march of the pregnant woman. The rhythm of the song mimics the momentum of a pregnant woman, tired by her repetitive daily tasks and forced to sit and breath regularly to rest. Through this humorous description, we sing a tribute to all of our mothers.

Aye Woma
Song of support and advice to our little sisters: "Men are bad, don’t let you ruin your life through the faults of men. Even we were sometimes unfair to our girlfriends and I do not wish the same for you. Enjoy your youth once again, go on to school, and do not linger. Have fun with the ones who really love you and your life will become more beautiful."

Horey
Takamba, a popular folk dance in northern Mali in the regions of Gao and Timbuktu. The traditional rhythm of the Songhai nobility became very popular, being modernized and electrified by new generations. Get up and dance!

Gomni
Mali needs to find peace. Peace is the main factor for development. Living conditions are the same for many people residing in the north of the country, where weapons cause problems and fuel resentment. But how do we make peace when it is not the will of everyone?