Leni Stern Readies Uplifting, Optimistic Africa Trio CD "Sabani"


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Stern's Most Uplifting, Optimistic Album in Years, as 'Sabani' Suggests an African Dreamscape

Stripped Down Trio Album Showcases Guitar, N'goni Ba, Camela N'goni, Calabash and Tama—Stern Thrilled with Result: “I Don't Know Why I Waited So Long to Record Like This"

Recorded and Mixed in Bamako, Mali at Salif Keita's Mouffou Studio

Acclaimed Global Music artist Leni Stern delivers her most uplifting and optimistic album in years with the September release of 'Sabani.' The stripped down African trio album was recorded and mixed at Salif Keita's Mouffou Studios in Bamako, Mali, and its austere beauty, at times, evokes such powerful U2 ballads such as “One" and “Red Hill Mining Town."

'Sabani' means 'three' in Bambara, and all of the tracks on the album are trio compositions - a stark departure from the multi-instrumental African/Indian/Global orchestrations Stern has delivered as her sound evolved on recent albums 'Sa Belle Belle Ba,' 'Africa,' 'Spirit in the Water,' 'Alu Maye' and others. Perhaps it's the simplicity of the arrangements that has allowed Stern to find such a mystical quality to the music. Stern is thrilled with the result: “I don't know why I waited so long to record like this."

'Sabani' features Stern on electric guitar, vocals and n'goni ba, Haruna Samake on camela n'goni, and Africa's Mamadou Kone dit Prince ('MK Called Prince') on calabash and tama. Highlights include the album's gypsy-inspired centerpiece 'Like A Thief,' and the powerful track 'Still Bleeding,' the first song Stern has ever written on n'goni ba. See song notes, below.

Select song notes—by Leni Stern:

“like a thief" was inspired by the flamenco singer diego el cigalla and his record “corren tiempos de alegria." when i was a little kid and wouldn't behave my grandmother used to tell me that i had fallen off the back of a horse when the gypsies came through town. she had taken me in out of the goodness of her heart, but if i didn't start behaving myself, she would give me back to them. i don't know if it's true that my great grandmother ran off with a chimney sweeper, a gypsy, and that i have a little gypsy in me, but i have always loved their music.

“the cat stole the moon"—that's what little kids in mali shout on new moon nights.and you have to give them candy or coins for letting you know.

“an saba" means the three of us or just us three. that's what haruna said when i told him of my idea to make a trio cd. we have spent so much time just playing like this. it's effortless for us and full of memories. of places we have been together, of adventures we've had. i don't why i waited so long to record like this.

“djanfa" means betrayed. this song features zoumana tareta, the great malien soukou player and singer. he's been around longer than the rest of us, so it is his job to share some of his wisdom when we are together. those are the times when i feel most privileged to be part of an african community. i remember the time he told abou, our engineer that he was too skinny and he had to eat more. he talked about the time when he didn't have anything to eat for days. how he made it through those hard times. we all sat and listened like children when he got going that way. in this song he sings about all of us, haruna, prince, abou and me. it's a real special honor.

“papillon"—when my friend adam's wife got sick, they talked about what they would like to be, if it was true that there is reincarnation and we all have more than one life to live.she said she would like to be a butterfly. i met adam in a little cafe on the lower east side, to see how he was doing and i swear when we stepped outside i almost collided with a few butterflies that came towards us and started flying around adam. it happens a lot he says.

More about the musicians and the evolution of the project—by Leni Stern:

I have been playing the n'goni since i first came to Mali in 2006 to perform at The Festival in the Dsert. I met Bassekou Kouyate there, Mali's most famous n'goni player. He and his whole family have been teaching me ever since. Last September we performed together at the presidential palace to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence. 50 years㬮 n'gonies. In the 50 n'goni orchestra, I sat next to the n'goni ba, the instrument of Basskou's father, played by his bother Fousseni. I fell in love with it's warm, soft sound. The n'goni ba is tuned to C, a forth below the jelly n'goni in F hat I had played so far. 'Still Bleeding' is the first song I composed on this instrument.

Haruna Samake was born in a small village near Bamako, the capital of Mali in West Africa. His father was the imam and all the villagers came to pray in his mosque, at least once a week. The camela n'goni is the instrument of the hunters. Most hunters in West Africa are also doctors. By observing the animals they track, they learn about the plants in the forest. They see an injured dear rub his leg against a particular tree and cut the bark to make bandages for people's injuries, for example (penicillin is found in the bark of a tree). The wisdom of traditional African medicine is passed on through the hunters. They are also sorcerers, a belief that originated in their extraordinary courage. They faced a lion armed with only a spear, they caught poisonous snakes to milk the venom in their mouths and make heart medicine from it. Hunters spend days, even months in the forest, where it is believed the spirits live...and they learn from them. They communicate with the spirits with the help of cowrie shells or a blackboard with lines and spaces drawn in white flower. People speak about them in hushed voices. So it was highly inappropriate for the little son of the imam to sit in the large courtyard of their house and play with a small camela n'goni that he had carved himself out of a calebash half, a stick and some fishing line! The hunters however liked the little boy and started to teach him how to play the instrument and they gave him a real camela n'goni after a while. A famous Malian singer named Sidibe heard people talking about the imam's little son that played the hunters harp and hired him to play in her band. That's how Haruna came to Bamako and eventually joined Salif Keita's band, where I met him. The camela n'goni is a pentatonic instrument that is most popular in Wassoulou music from the south of Mali. Haruna has taken the instrument far past its origin and can play any style of music on it, from the mandingue scales of segou and guinne, to the Congolese guitars to American blues.

MK Called Prince was born in Mopti, the city of the 3 rivers, the West African center of trading since hundreds of years. Mopti is located in the middle of the country, halfway between Bamako and Timbuktu. 4 of the Malian ethnicities, the peul, the bamabara, the dogon and the bobos, meet in mopti. Prince knows all of their rhythms and dances. He is half peul, half bobo. The rhythm of this song comes from the bobo people.

Prince plays it on the calabash. One day before the recording he took me on his mo-ped to the market and we bought a calabash. They are used for so many things in Africa, instruments like the kora and the camela n'goni, household purposes like salad bowls and water containers they often get decorated with cowrie shells and used as shakers in wassoulou music. Prince uses his upside down, like a bass drum when he plays with his fists and a rimshot when he play with his rings. He can actually sound like a whole drum set on a calabash. The man that cleaned and carved the calabash while we where waiting was a samake, like haruna. Prince said that you can trust a samake.

This story appears courtesy of Seth Cohen PR.
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