In 1996, a group of Mali’s finest musicians were due to fly into Havana for a speculative collaboration with some of Cuba’s most brilliant singers and instrumentalists. For reasons that have never been made clear, the Malians never arrived. A very different album was recorded: Buena Vista Social Club. The rest, as they say, is multi-million selling history.
But what about that original album? What riches might have been revealed in the interaction of virtuosi from one of Africa’s most musically rich territories, and from Cuba whose music has origins in Africa, and has been hugely influential on the mother continent?
AfroCubism offers the opportunity to find out.
Fronting the Cuban team is the cowboy-hatted singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa, singer of the great Buena Vista theme “Chan Chan.” The two original Malian invitees are multi-award-winning ngoni lute master Bassekou Kouyate and the extraordinary Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, both universally agreed to be among the world’s great instrumentalists.
Joining them are Eliades’ Grupo Patria, amongst Cuba’s longest running and most revered bands, the mercurial kora genius Toumani Diabaté, legendary Malian griot singer Kasse Mady Diabaté and the innovatory balafon player Lassana Diabaté.
“It was as though the musicians had been holding back their ideas and energy for that moment,” says Gold, who produced the album, with the great Buena Vista engineer Jerry Boys at his side. “After we’d waited so long, it all came together remarkably easily and spontaneously. The group had never played together before but the music just poured out and it continued to flow over the next few days.” Seventeen songs were recorded in five days, with all the musicians playing together “live” in one large room. A second session was convened some months later and produced a further nine songs.