Donso has released a second LP titled “Denfila”, a unique combination of cosmic sounds of Mali’s hunter clan with the earthly beats of underground electronic music.
The story of this fantastic production began in an apartment building in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, almost five years ago. Pierre Antoine Grison, aka Krazy Baldhead, beat producer on electro label Ed Banger Records, heard his next-door neighbour playing an unknown instrument.
It was the donso n’goni, the sacred instrument of the Hunters, the West African brotherhood known for their mystical abilities and the power of their music.
Over several years, that neighbour, Thomas Guillaume, had been making many trips deep into southern Mali to study music and learn his craft.
Next Pierre-Antoine “Pag” Grison, an electro and hip-hop DJ, was introduced to the power of the donso trance. Mali’s hunter clan use it as spiritual preparation to make them invincible in combat.
Fascinated by these hypnotic loops, he began to build electronic bridges between the two worlds. In 2009, they asked Malian singer and dancer Gédéon Papa Diarra to join them. A descendant of King Da Monzon Diarra, he is gifted with a unique voice.
Then followed Guinean guitarist Moh Kouyaté and his psychedelic playing style. Donso came to life. Finally, in 2012, Seyba Cissoko joined this clan. With his drums, tama and Djeli n’goni, he added grit and grace to their electronic bush music.
In January 2012, Pierre Antoine “Pag” Grison was sent on a mission by the rest of the group and headed to Bamako. He had already travelled to Africa, but this was his first trip to Mali. In his bags, a couple of phone numbers scribbled by Gédéon, the mystic advice given by Thomas, and the first demos of “Denfila”, a portable studio, a pocket recorder and a couple of mics.
During the day, he saw musician after musician. During the night, he toured the clubs and lively neighbourhoods of the capital: Rue 235, Diplomate, Class A and Parc des Princes, looking for Bamako vibes and musicians interested in Donso’s musical experiments.
With Pag was singer and traditional violinist Zoumana Téréta, an icon of Malian music. The setup was simple: on the stage at the French Cultural Center a calabash was placed straight on the floor, several mics were turned on and musicians improvised to the cuts brought in by Donso. They played freely together, tried out different ideas, fooled around, a perpetual jam session seeking a shared trance.
Playing the bass n’goni, Moussa Bah (a former member of Bassékou Kouyaté’s band Ngoni Ba) brings his heady groove on two tracks “Jugu” and “Easy Easy”.
Mantiaba, a singer who joined the session by chance, brings a spontaneous energy blast to the track that bears her name. Having been impossible to find at any club, guitar player Sambala Kouyaté ended up rushing into Pag’s hotel room at the last moment to record - in ten minutes flat - his genius guitar riffs on “Sibi Hours” and “Rock Le Kalaban”.
Enthralled with the world of Donso, the great Zoumana Téréta shifted into the role of artistic director of the Bamako sessions and gave life to several ethereal tracks including “Heading to Gao” and “Dali” which were reworked by the group back in Paris. And it is precisely this continuous flow between Europe and Africa that characterizes Denfila: written in Paris, completed in Bamako, and vice versa.
The album is a deep, atmospheric notebook of sounds, feelings and encounters. It’s a hallucinated Malian dream in music, switching between vivid recall and hazy memories of real and imagined moments spent in Bamako.
Several tracks come straight from Donso members: on “Mantiaba”, Thomas Guillaume’s donso n’goni calls for a trance, while on “Rue Princesse”, the whole Donso clan is partying in Paris as if they were in Bamako.
Finally, “Awakening” gives a warm welcome to Seyba Cissoko, Donso’s fifth member, for a drum-only track influenced by techno dub and dubstep.
The laid-back “Denfila” trip in Bamako in January 2012 would sadly no longer be possible today. Since then, Mali has gone through dark times and a crisis that threatens the balance of society as a whole.
Along with other aspects of daily life, music and nightlife have become victims of this unrest. Denfila, recorded right before the crisis started, is a chance to tune in to the vibes of a time that has been lost - that of a carefree Bamako, where the transcendental power of the music was the only ruling force in town.
Hitting music stores this month, “Denfila” has been released by Comet Records. It is dedicated to all women, men and children in Mali who lost their lives during the conflicts and to all African people living under tyranny and destruction.