Bridging Bamako Berlin


Kamale N'goni meets synthesizer, balafon meets trombone. In "Bridging Bamako Berlin" traditional sounds from Mali mix with electronic sounds from Berlin.

At the suggestion of Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist Lassine Koné, traditional West African instruments such as Kamale N'goni, Bolon and Balafon meet clarinet, trombone, drums and double bass. In interaction with the electronic music of the Berlin based sound artist AMET, fascinating new soundscapes are evolving. In direct musical dialogue and impressive improvisations, the musicians in "Bridging Bamako Berlin" seek a new musical language beyond classical categories and narratives.

"The mix of traditional and electronic music reflects our global society, allows us to be in contact with others with others and to communicate freely with each other communicate and inspire each other."

Against all odds

from Marc Sinan

Lassine Koné is the embodiment of avant-garde. When I first met Lassine in the summer of 2018, at the estate of dancer Kettly Noel, who created her own Garden of Eden in Bamako, I encountered a rock of a man, with waist-length, jet-black dreadlocks. Kettly and Lassine are carved from the same wood, or rather, carved from the same stone. They are one with their art.

Once they start dancing and playing, the world around them disappears and they draw you into their dimension. This is a rare power. And yet they differ in one respect: Kettly's stone is hard as granite while Lassine's stone is so heavy and soft that it must come from an alien star. The first time we made music together, he played the kamale ngoni, a West African harp instrument. Lassine played with his hair, with his teeth, he jumped up, he sang, danced, and shouted. He hyperventilated into a two-liter plastic bottle to create sounds. After several minutes, the bottle threatened to burst. It is not Lassine who loses his strength; it is the industrially produced material that loses its strength to him.


Habib Sangaré invited me to his home: a traditional cottage in the middle of the city with small, open spaces arranged around an inner courtyard. Together we improvised. He played the bolon, a type of double bass used in West African music: Four strings are strung on a curved neck over a calabash. Habib plays rhythms that I cannot understand. He develops microtonal and microrhythmic gestures that seem at once organic and precise, creating a flow that goes beyond my own musical vocabulary. It remains an enchanting mystery to me. Habib's music hovers just above the ground. It floats and is yet deeply connected to the red Malian earth. Later, Joel Diarra, the balafon player, came by. He likes to play two instruments at once, arranging them so that he can play chromatically. Lassine soon started doing the same. One thing led to another. Joel played two instruments at the same time––one in each hand. He has an infectious cheerfulness. In Bamako, I only saw him with a laugh on his face.

The three of them became an ensemble that we now invite to play with us in Europe. One of the coolest bands I know. They call themselves Djiguya Orchestra, named after a region in the south of the country where Lassine's ancestors come from.


In 2019 we returned to Bamako: We rehearsed with colleagues and with Kettly; we filmed those sessions and we got to know each other. We were preparing a major pantopic concert project: "Am Anfang". The work brings different narratives of creation together. Back then, the omens were phenomenal, the human and artistic encounters were full of vitality and purpose.


The third trip to Bamako we took in January 2020. As we got off the plane, women and men in protective suits pointed thermometers at our foreheads; they were measuring the temperature of all passengers entering Mali. Back then, we interpreted this as an exaggerated form of caution by a region that learned from the Ebola epidemic. In hindsight, we were naïve.


It took two years before we were able to continue our collaboration. In between lay the uncertainties of the Corona pandemic, which forced us to find new, digital, ways to continue.  But making music involves a physical encounter. Nothing can replace the sensuality and purpose that results from people sharing space and time, these deeply human concepts, concepts that we invented.


During two stays in 2022 for concerts in Berlin, the band's first very own project emerged: Bridging Bamako Berlin. Lassine, Habib and Joel met other musicians and joined them in their studios. Oğuz Büyükberber, the clarinetist and electronic musician from Amsterdam; the drummer Daniel Eichholz, with whom they already collaborated for "Am Anfang"; Cameroonian musician AMET, an icon of feminist, postcolonial electronic music; Meinrad Kneer, the double bass player who knows how to turn the whale of a stringed instrument into a wren; and Johannes Lauer, the trombonist who himself used to live in Mali and has traveled West Africa as a sideman of different bands.

This is how this recording came about. In the meantime, Lassine's dreadlocks have become streaked with shiny white strands. And Joel, the eternally cheerful Joel, mysteriously disappeared one day, without leaving a single trace. None of us ever heard from him again.

So all that remains to be said is: difficult years can shape great music and the little seedling of the Djiguya Orchestra is blossoming––against all odds––like a flower in the desert. May it grow into a flower field, may it have a bright future!

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