[JPL] Jazz singer Bridgewater treks from Memphis to Mali

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Thu Sep 7 21:34:29 EDT 2006

Jazz singer Bridgewater treks from Memphis to Mali
Thu Sep 7, 2006 3:42 AM ET

By Dan Ouellette

BAMAKO, Mali (Billboard) - West Africa time is liquid and the evening air 
saturated with equatorial humidity. Cotton clothes are drenched with sweat, 
and the distinctively Malian polyrhythms are luminous as jazz vocalist Dee 
Dee Bridgewater walks onstage to greet a band of local musicians.

They're gathered at Malian superstar vocalist Oumou Sangare's 
under-the-stars club, Space Cultural Wassulu, which adjoins her hotel, 
Residence Wassulu, in the capital city of Bamako -- a flat, dusty, but 
brightly colored metropolis split in two by the serpentine Niger River, 
which teems with produce and artisan marketplaces. It's a Sunday night and 
keyboardist Cheick Tidiane Seck has called an audition of sorts, to 
introduce Bridgewater to an array of young Malian musicians playing koras, 
ngonis and calabash drums.

The occasion? Bridgewater, who is based in Paris and Los Angeles, is in the 
process of recording her next album here. After hearing an album her Malian 
liaison Seck made with pianist Hank Jones (1995's "Sarala" on Sunnyside), 
she sought help in "exploring my African roots" from Seck, who splits his 
time between Paris and Bamako. He offers the introductions; Bridgewater 
makes the call on who she feels most comfortable collaborating with.

"The people of Mali are quietly proud, have a lot of dignity and integrity, 
have an inner peace in their improvisational style that speaks to my 
spirit," says the vocalist, who was born and raised in Memphis, where, she 
points out, the earth has the same red color as this country.

Given that Mali's traditional music sounds like it has a direct link to 
Delta blues, many American acts have comfortably recorded with musicians 
here -- most notably blues/roots artist Taj Mahal's collaboration with kora 
great Toumani Diabate on 1999's "Kulanjan" (Rykodisc) and jazz trombonist 
Roswell Rudd's meeting with Diabate on 2004's "MALIcool" (Sunnyside). But, 
arguably, Bridgewater's desire to marry the two musical worlds, with their 
common African ancestry, is the most ambitious recorded undertaking to 
date. "We'll do some jazz standards like Wayne Shorter's 'Footprints' and 
Les McCann's 'Compared to What,"' she says, "but I'm also setting off to 
discover Malian traditional music."

Case in point: the catchy melange "Demitaermou/Children Go Round," a 
spirited tune with galloping rhythms that Bridgewater jazzes up in the 
first album track, recorded at Bogolon, the late guitarist Ali Farka 
Toure's Bamako studio. She's joined by ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate (who 
appeared on Toure's Nonesuch finale, "Svane," earlier this year) and his 
vocalist wife, Ami Sacko.

"Bassekou taught me this old song about the importance of educating our 
children because they are our future," Bridgewater says. "I wrote an 
English lyric that corresponded to the story in Bambara."

Other Malian musicians involved in the project include Sangare, who, like 
Bridgewater, is a United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization 
ambassador. (Before their studio session, the two toured Malian villages to 
view FAO-funded projects.) "Oumou has become like a sister to me," 
Bridgewater says. Diabate's involvement is still in question, given his 
upcoming collaboration with Bjork.

Bridgewater's initial August sessions will be continued in Paris with 
France-based Malian musicians as well as her jazz band. She will return to 
Bamako in October to finish the record. Signed by Universal International, 
which plans to release the CD in March in Europe on the resurrected Emarcy 
imprint, Bridgewater says the U.S. release is tentatively planned for 
second-quarter 2007, with distribution not yet finalized.


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