In the Jan. 2013 issue of Living Blues Issue 223, Vol.44 #1, Frank Matheis, publisher of thecountryblues.com published an abridged interview with Bluesman Eric Bibb and Malian Musician Habib Koite as a contributor to LB. He spoke to these wonderful artists about their new album Brothers in Bamako as part of the regular LB article series Living Blues Talks to…
Here is the complete interview, unedited, as in the original notes.
LB: Mali’s militant insurgency in the north of the country is threatening a strict Islamic fundamentalism that threatens to eradicate music, among other things. Mali has a rich musical history. How is this affecting you and your fellow musicians?
HK: Diplomatic solutions to resolve the troubles in Northern Mali are underway. The Malian people are 95% moderate Muslims. It’s incredible to be in a situation with so many restrictions for music on the radio, in concert, and for traditional events like weddings, births, and funerals. The daily life of Malian people revolves around music. It’s impossible to imagine the future of Mali without this basic cultural element.
LB: African-American musicians often feel a special kinship to the music of West Africa as the place of origin of the blues, as well as their ancestral homeland. How, in turn, does the American blues sound to African ears?
HK: Since the 1970s, we have been listening to musicians like John Lee Hooker. African music was one of the major precursors for the blues. While Blues is clearly not an African music, but we can hear some similarities due to Pentatonic tuning and with Mandinguo rhythm.
LB: Which blues musicians do you listen to and feel a connection with?
HK: Lee Hooker, but I also listening to soul music like Percy Sledge & James Brown. I like Clarence Carter and more recently Corey Harris, Bonnie Raitt and Eric Bibb.
LB: What type of guitar and what tunings were you using for this project with Eric Bibb?
HK: I played a semi-acoustic nylon string Godin, the same guitar I have used for 16 years, in E B G D A E tuning.
LB: Besides the influence of your own musical family, which musicians have been most influential on you?
HK: Pat Metheny, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Genesis and Malians Kante Manfila, Ali Farka Toure, Boubacar Traore, Salif Keita.
LB: The music scene in Mali has always been rich. Who is now emerging in Mali or other African countries that is deserving of attention by blues lovers who also appreciate African music?
HK: In Mali, Baba Salah, Adama Yalomba, Idrissa Soumaoro.
LB: Eric, as an American ex-pat who has made a career as an acoustic bluesman living in Finland, how do you compare the blues scene in Europe to the US?
EB: The blues community worldwide is interconnected. There is a tribe of blues lovers everywhere. In the States, Australia, in Europe, people are on the same page. The opportunities for work at festivals are increasing. Being on the blues circuit these days is very encouraging. There is a real renaissance. There are new people coming along who are really creating interest, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who have done a good job in rekindling interest in the earlier side of this music. So I think these are good times.
LB: Eric. You are now reconnecting with Habib Koité of Mali after more than 10 years since the Mali to Memphis project for Putumayo. What is the main point of synergy between you two musicians?
EB: I got interested in Malian music, kora music and West African music at age 14. It was different, but some part of me knew it. Even before I met Habib, I was aware of him – a fabulous player who I felt that would work with. I realized that the West African guitar style and my fingerpicking are related to each other. Not only that, but Habib is a wonderful, warm guy, easy to get along with. We became friends.
LB: What kinds of tunings and instruments did you use on this album?
EB. We did not use many alternatives tunings. Habib is the “King of the Pull-off.” He sounds somewhere between a kora player and a Flamenco guitarist.
My tunings were standard or dropped D. Sometimes I tune the bass string to D, first E to D. We used many different types of guitars. I used a steel string Fylde guitar built by Roger Bucknall in the UK and also a baritone guitar, a 7-string Martin, an 8-string ukelele, and a 6-string banjo.
LB: How did the American musicians who have played with Malian musicians before, like Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Corey Harris, Bela Fleck, etc. influence your decision to make this album?
EB: I have always had a fascination with West African music. The other projects did not influence us. We had a connection as two troubadours from different cultures who had the experience of playing together and realized that we did something new. We did not look to other projects for ideas, nor try to demonstrate that the blues came from West Africa. It was not a musicologist statement. It was just two guitarists who found each other musically.
Copyright: Living Blues 2013