• Jah Youssouf & Bintou Coulibaly – Sababou

  • My introduction to Jah Youssouf’s (b. 1970) music came in a very 21st-century Western way: I heard a couple of his songs from a web-based mp3 store called Calabash.com in early 2006 when I was living in Chicago. Calabash is no longer around, but it was nice because you could search for music by country, and it had an extensive African library. I was browsing through music from Mali, and I came across a couple of tracks from Jah’s album “Son Son Son”. His music struck me as being such an interesting combination of influences – distinctly West African, but somehow referencing something much larger. At some point, I did a Google search, discovered that he actually had a website and that he was doing a little bit of touring in Canada. I looked into trying to see a show of his, but the timing was bad so I couldn’t catch him.

    A couple years later I decided to try and take a trip to Mali. I wanted to learn more about Malian music, and I was fascinated by Africa in general. I thought I’d try and get in touch with Jah since he was one of the most interesting contemporary Malian musicians that I had heard. I tried to send a few emails to him via his website but didn’t hear back from him.

    A few months later, in May of 2009, I found myself in Bamako, Mali. With a great stroke of luck, I got an email from one of Jah’s Canadian friends, JP Melville, with Jah’s cell phone number a couple of days after I arrived. I called Jah initially just to ask if he was playing any shows while I was going to be in Bamako. He wasn’t, due to the fact that he was in the throes of trying to organize another tour to Canada. We made plans to meet up, and he kindly invited me out to his house for lunch in Moribabougou, which is about 30 minutes outside of Bamako. I brought my little portable Zoom audio recorder to our lunch date and asked if he might be open to recording a little bit. He was keen, and I was immediately enthralled not only by Jah’s gifts (which I already had some exposure to) but also by his wife Bintou’s prowess as a musician. Before meeting Jah, I had made arrangements to take a trip to out the Dogon Country, a central plateau region of Mali east of Bamako, but we made a plan to try to record as much as possible after I returned. Jah and Bintou also graciously offered to let me stay in their home. I did just that, and these recordings are gleaned from those two weeks at their home in Moribabougou.

    I think it’s worth noting how distant my time with Jah and Bintou felt from the routines of my Western life. Despite Jah’s accomplishments as a musician (touring a little bit overseas and extensively in West Africa, as well as a good deal of local acclaim from a song called “Ne toun be min”, and his music making it to a website where I could hear it in the first place), he and his family lived a very fragile existence. Their home did not have running water, and electricity was provided by a car battery. The most basic needs were difficult to come by. Despite this, there was a graciousness exhibited by Jah and Bintou as well as their family and friends that seems very hard to come by in most of the places I’ve lived and traveled.

    I was completely enchanted and enveloped by Jah and Bintou’s music. They graciously opened up a door to a world of music that I never thought I would be able to experience firsthand. I hope you enjoy these recordings, and I’d be delighted if money from selling them could provide a little stability for Jah and Bintou’s family. They are such gifted musicians and kind people. I feel very lucky to have had that time together in Moribabougou and to have these recordings as a memento.

    -Brad Loving

    I have some really difficult news to share. Bintou and her daughter were both killed by typhoid fever in March of 2014. I’ve had a while to process this, and I’m still at a loss for words. I know that the poverty and political instability of Mali were pivotal in Bintou and her daughter’s death. They obviously weren’t able to get the medical care they needed – it’s worth noting there is a typhoid vaccine. I wish I realized how precarious things had become for them with the violence that erupted in northern Mali and made its way south. I know I could have done more. I regret terribly not doing so.

    I have a memory of Bintou that I’d like to share. I was playing tag with her children in their front yard. The kids were having a good time, but the neighbors seemed to be a little bit suspicious of me. The vibe I got was sort of “Why is this crazy white adult man running around our front yard?” I started to try and wind the game down when Bintou got up from her stool and suddenly came running toward me. She wanted to play tag too and was determined to get me. She was fast as lightning, and I was “it” before I knew what hit me. We had a good laugh and the neighbors laughed too in recognition of Bintou’s joyful spirit.

    The thought of that spirit being extinguished is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever dealt with. Bintou was the closest thing to a saint that I’ve met. I don’t have any silver lining for this one.

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