African Blues

Afel Bocoum

Blues Roots: West African Blues

Afel Bocoum sings the Blues in Mali West Africa.

Afel Bocoum is a musician from Mali, noted as a singer and guitarist. He began his career as a member of Ali Farka Toure’s group ASCO, Toure is often regarded as his mentor. Both men come from the town of Niafunke on the River Niger, and are members of the Sonrai people. Bocoum is an agricultural advisor by profession.

His group, Alkibar (the name means ‘messenger of the great river’ in Sonrai) consists of two acoustic guitars, a njarka (a one-string fiddle), a njurkle (a kind of lute), calabash and djembe percussion, and two female singers as well as male singers in the choruses. Bocoum is the lead vocalist and uses music as a medium of communication, commenting on contemporary Malian society, e.g., “if you betray one woman, you betray all women” (Yarabitala), “we live in a crazy world with no respect; tomorrow we’ll be judged by our children” (Salamm aleikum), “parents, do not force your daughters to marry; a home will never flourish without true love” (Mali woymoyo).

Most of his singing is done in Sonrai, his native language, but also in Tamasheq (the language of the Tuareg) and in Fulfulde (the language of the Fula people). Bocoum’s father was a musician and was noted locally for his ability to play the njarka and njurkel, which he employed to play music at weddings. Bocoum used to accompany his father to the weddings and there learnt the songs of the se galarare style of music. He retained his preference for acoustic over electric guitar, and the use of traditional instruments. As well as the Malian musicians he grew up with, Bocoum cites Jorge Ben Jor, Mamadou Doumbia, Salif Keita, John Lee Hooker, and Mongo Santamaría as his musical influences.

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