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into West Africa

I'm heading into a journey of a lifetime next week. I'm going to Mali, in West Africa.

The big picture:

The details:

We are a trio for this trip. I'm joined by 14 year old son and my Mexico pal (& wicked bass player) Alonso Arreola. Along with our guide Mamadou we will begin by venturing through the capitol of Bamako on the Niger River.

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Then head to the Festival of the Niger in Segou:

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Then we go into the Dogon land. The Dogon is an active, mostly pre-Islamic culture. We will be on foot and will be sleeping on the roofs of the adobe houses for 7 days.



The Dogon are known for their incredible dances and masks.


Though, no doubt, there is more than spectacle going on.

Traditional Dogon greeting. Very involved and happens all day long with everyone.

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Then we head to Mopti.

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Then to Djenne.

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Then back to Bamako for a few more days.

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I have been planning this trip for close to a year now. In that time period I have met many people who have traveled there and who have loads of contacts for us. Especially with some of the local musicians. And keep in mind that some of the local musicians are Issa Bagayogo, Oumou Sangare, Tinariwen, Viex Farke Toure, Bassekou Kouyate, Salif Keita... The list goes on and on. This country is a roomful of true badasses. We'll see who I can actually meet up with but, no doubt, it is going to be a fantastic journey.

Here are some Ngoni players.
Bassekou Kouyate in San Fran:

and Mama Sissoko:

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Unfortunately there is some heavy political stuff going on the country and it has been heating up over the last few months. It's a long and complicated story, of which I can only gather together bits and pieces. I think a fair short version is that the Tuareg's in the North (Sahara) have been at odds with the Malian government and the South for ages. This, somewhat recently agravated, with food suplies sent in during a famine in the 1980s that never quite made it from the South up to the North (remember Live Aid?). Eventually the Tuareg won the friendship of Gaddafi, when he was alive and in power, and he helped broker a deal with the Mali political powers in the 1990s. Gaddafi dropped billions of dollars all across Africa which gave him the right to call in favors at a later date. And friendship with him came with a double-edged sword: many of the Tuareg were lured into Libya last year to fight for Gaddafi against his own rebellion. Apparently he was paying then $1000 a day to come fight. The per capita income average, per year, in Mali is about $290.

Now that these fighters are coming home from Libya they aren't being met with the most open arms and have begun their own battles. Taking over some towns in the north, it seems (to this Westerner) they are heading towards further independence and want their own nation. Mixed up into this story, but as aside, is a local Al Queda that runs across the Sahara called Al Queda Megreb. They have been responsible for a few kidnappings (two in the last year -- a pretty low number, in truth.)

Several days ago there were intense demonstrations in Bamako set off by the families of Malian army soldiers who were sent into the North to take out these rebels. These soldiers were ill-equiped and met with disaster. The people in the south are super pissed with the government for not taking security matters seriously.

For more detailed info see the following link. Andy is the ex-manager of the Tuareg musicial group Tinariwen. If you haven't heard these guys, you must.
Andy Morgan on the back story of the Taureg's and independence

And here's a great blog entry from Phil, who was at the Festival of the Desert in January and had some excitement bumping into the demonstrations in Bamako last week.

Sadly, the situation looks to be worsening (or strengthing depending on your perspective) as the Rebels have now taken Kidal in the north, two cities further south and there was a fight in Timbuktu yesterday with many rebels killed.

Anyway, we only plan to be in the South. And since it is ill-advised by our governments (the West) to go there at all, I suspect we may be some of the only tourists this winter. OK, by me. We shall be careful and if it feels dogdy in Bamako we'll head into the Dogon early and stay there longer.

I hope to have updates coming as I travel, but we'll have to see how our internet connections go.

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Reader Comments (3)

Have a wonderful trip, Trey!! (And thanks for this primer. Fascinating.)


February 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Whoah! Glad I saw your newsletter in my inbox and took a moment to read of your upcoming adventure - it sounds unbelievable! I have long been fascinated with the Dogon and their rituals & music. What a life-enriching trek! Safe travels (& i hope you take photos & completely rock out with those world renowned musicians) have a magical trip!

February 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnnalisa

Greetings from Bolgatanga, Ghana!

What a fascinating journey for the likes of you, Trey.

I first came to Ghana to study Ga cultural music and was, and continue to be, profoundly disappointed by the ''pop'' music that is to be heard here.

However, Mali continues to emanate incredible sounds that marry the old with the new in a slick, but soulful, way.

What incredible artists Mali has on tap. I wouldn't be surprised if you bought yourself a kora.

I am so excited for you! What great musical connections you have fostered! I look forward to your blog posts which are always intelligent and heartfelt.

I've sometimes wondered if Fripp took a passing interest in kora music or, perhaps, other forms of African music where a cast of thousands can be found collectively spraying burning guitar lines on a track.

When you arrive in Mali, find a reputable pharmacy that sells the latest and greatest in terms of treating malaria.
Malaria prophylactics don't always work and can have toxic side effects.

Again, what a fabulous journey to undertake, let alone, the fact that you are sharing that journey with your son.

Trey, I wish you to be well and happy.

Gregory MacCarthy

February 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGregory MacCarthy

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