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International musicians share sounds of Mali at Memorial Hall

Mali, Bamako, Bassekou Kouyate, studio recording 03/2012
Mali, Bamako, Bassekou Kouyate, studio recording 03/2012

UPDATE: Due to severe winter weather conditions, this performance has been canceled. Fatoumata Diawara, one of the artists in “One Night in Bamako”, will perform at Memorial Hall on April 11, and tickets for the canceled show will be honored at her performance.

Memorial Hall is hitting all the right notes this Valentine’s Day as it hosts international musicians Bassekou Kouyate and Fatoumata Diawara for “One Night in Bamako.”

The concert, hosted by Carolina Performing Arts, seeks to pay homage to Bamako, Mali’s capital, and educate audiences about the heartland’s historic musical tradition.

The performance is backed by partnerships with NOA Living, a Raleigh-based wholesale furniture store, and African Rhythms, a Durham-based organization dedicated to raising awareness about the multiplicity of African culture in the Triangle area.

Mawuena Agbeblewu, co-founder and chief organizer of African Rhythms, said the concert represents an eclectic blend of musical styles.

“It’s a mix of blues, folk, a little bit of jazz and then what we call ‘highlife music’ in west Africa,” he said.

Joe Florence, CPA’s marketing manager, said that “One Night in Bamako” presents an exclusive opportunity to see world-renowned musicians live.

“They can hear professors lecture, they can hear CDs, but to have local Mali musicians — here in Memorial Hall, in UNC’s backyard — is a treat,” Florence said.

“I would hope that people would think of it more as an experience more than a performance.”

Florence also said the fact that Mali’s musical tradition is steeped in sociopolitical strife also adds another dimension to the performance.

Agbeblewu said that the political strife is a key part of the artists’ connection.

“One of the things that brings them together is the passion for Mali and the unrest in Mali — that’s a message that we don’t want people to forget,” Agbeblewu said.

“Something like ‘One Night in Bamako’ gives us an opportunity to engage the campus community and the community at large to talk about what surrounds the performance — the upheaval in Mali.”

Last year, a revived Tuareg rebellion led a coup d’etat in the northern Mali, capturing the capital of Bamako and destabilizing the country’s democracy. Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists backed this seizure.

At the entreaty of the Malian government, France intervened with help from the U.K. and the U.S.

That conflict represents just one episode in a storied power struggle between the Tuareg rebels and the Malian government. “One Night in Bamako” reflects a quasi-revival of the cultural heritage that was censored by rebels.

A reception will be held following the concert to open the floor for reactions and analyze the artistic and diplomatic issues in which the performance is couched.

“The regime at the time had shut down all the clubs so music could not be played. Music is Mali’s primary form of storytelling and carrying on tradition, so when that’s endangered, it speaks a lot to culture,” Florence said.

Aaron Shackelford, CPA’s Mellon post-doctoral fellow, said that he is hoping to emphasize academic engagement with the performance.

“To me, this is a strong opportunity to both hear an amazing show and really be stretching your mind and experiences in terms of your awareness of what’s happening in the greater world,” he said.

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