Allata Broulaye seems to have wanted to stay out of the media's attention--including the recording industry--preferring to be known through performance instead. He is credited as being the "inventor" of what we all know and love (if not by name at least by sound)--the kamelen n'goni. I hope you'll be lenient with me in light of most of what I am going to write below is taken from one excellent article written by Lucy Duran, as well as from what I remember asking friends in Yanfolila, who didn't speak much French and I very little Bamana, about the origin of the songs I was hearing and learning.
I say Broulaye avoided attention because Duran credits herself as having the only interview he ever gave (1996), months before his death (1997). I say he avoided the recording industry because Duran and another talented researcher, Graeme Counsel, cite his only full-length, official album to have been recorded in 1981/3, titled Spécialiste de Kamelen N'goni. Before I go on with more info about him I want to point something out, if you haven't noticed already.
Duran's note at the end of her article and Counsel's comprehensive discography list Broulaye's only LP/cassette as Spécialiste de Kamelen N'goni (the year of release differs). However, the cassette I present to you, and that was presented to me in the market as Allata Broulaye's "only" cassette, is titled L'Initiateur de Kamele Ngoni. Presently, the only other island in this vast internet ocean where I can find another listing for L'Initiateur de Kamele Ngoni is here, a listening syllabus for a Harvard music class in 2008. I cannot find a single website that provides a track listing for Spécialiste de Kamelen N'goni album, nor for L'Initiateur de Kamele Ngoni, save for the three tracks on the Harvard site linked above. So, your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not I have the true "only" cassette. The score is 2-2. Duran and Counsel -vs- me and Harvard. Perhaps these tapes are one-and-the-same, perhaps not. Let me know if you figure something out. At least here I have home-field advantage.
I'll get back to this conflict with relevant information a little later, but for now, enough of that.
Duran writes that Broulaye was the first to record kamelengoni with his niece Coumba Sidibe (to be posted later) for Radio Mali, in 1977, and it wasn't until the early 1980's that he put his first LP to wax. Brulaye said he was never paid for that album and thus never recorded again. I would like to think that it would be impossible that not a single event where Brulaye may have played for a crowd, such as for the opening of such-and-such market, or such-and-such school, or whatever else might warrant ceremonious music in his whole career, wasn't ever recorded by a Radio Mali journalist or Radio Wassoulou journalist, as is quite common. There are plenty of locally recorded tapes available to support this practice, my Seydou Camara post being one of them (although I don't know the exact purpose for that recording). But then I remember one has to consider the original "purpose" of the kamelengoni and what it represented to Malian youth and musicians and artists: freedom from ceremony and ritual, which was required for any occasion that the donsongoni played. Instead, kamelengoni was/is for pure entertainment. So perhaps there aren't any recordings of Brulaye playing for the opening of whatever was opening because he simply didn't play for those events. He only played to make people dance in the villages, a pure expression of "his" art. Broulaye's brother said, "'This was our own dance music. We didn't listen to records or the radio. Young boys and girls would meet in the evenings outside the village and dance to this music until the early hours of the morning...'" (Duran, 2003; I'd give a page number but my copy doesn't have them).
Duran also mentions that shortly before his death, Broulaye recorded a few songs with Oumou Sangare at her house in Bamako. These were recorded by Ousmane Haidara. I'm excited for a future trip to Mali, in part to track down some of these forgotten recordings. Speaking of Oumou Sangare...she is one of the singers on this album. If you listen closely to the songs Dundun Ba and Djigui you can hear Broulaye single out Oumou Sangare, singing her name.
I will never claim that I speak Bambara well (yet), and if someone out there can correct me please do, but to me it sounds like Broulaye is singing something like this, beginning at minute mark 1.29 of Djigui: Oumou Sangare ngoni min y'a djigui ye/ (chorus)/ Kamelengoni kan...//
My translation, if I'm correct would be, roughly: Oumou Sangare, the ngoni that gives her hope/ (chorus)/ The language of kamelengoni...// and then I can't separate the words (plus he sometimes sounds like he doesn't have any teeth). In most cases djigui translates to hope, but from experience it seems to me that any word in Bamana can mean anything depending on the context of the rest of the sentence. Then in the next line, adding -kan after a noun typically means "the language of that noun". Such as Bamanankan = the Bamana language. Konokan = the language of the bird. Side note: when you hear many Wassoulou artists sing "wassoulou konokan bora", they're singing that their words have left. (bo = to go--among other things--and -ra makes that verb take the past tense). In this case the singer is the bird of wassoulou who has just said whatever it is they did and the words have left them. Another side note: although Oumou Sangare is most famously given the title of the Bird of Wassoulou, such a title is not unique to her, although she does have a very pretty voice.
A brief return to the conflict of the dueling cassettes: Duran quotes from two of Broulaye's songs from Spécialiste de Kamelen N'goni in her article, listing the titles as Mousso keleyato and Yayoroba. You may notice that neither of those are in my cassette presented to you. However, I have not scoured the lyrics of my tape for those phrases, which if identified, would lead me to believe there is merely a difference in song titles not content. The score is still 2-2 in my book (Harvard has my track titles, and Duran has them for her team).
I've written more than I thought. I love the kamelengoni. The picture at top is a close-up of Sekou Kouyate's axe, who is pictured behind the title of this blog. I hope you enjoyed the brief lesson in Bamana grammar.
Post script: I am hesitant to make any connection between Malian music and the blues, for one because I'm tired of reading about it in the superficial terms by which it is typically presented, and two because what I want to write is not founded on anything beyond an entertaining coincidence; so here goes. I've been listening to a lot of pre-WWII blues lately. Allata Broulaye reminds me of a Henry Sloan type character. Henry Sloan is credited with teaching Charley Patton to play the blues, and Charley Patton, as I understand it, went on to teach people like Son House and Bukka White, among others, and on and on until the blues is what it is today one-hundred years after the fact. There is only one single reference to anyone besides Charley Patton ever having seen Henry Sloan alive (W.C Handy in 1903), and even that is an ongoing debate. Allata Broulaye apparently only gave one interview and he was the founder of a musical movement that cemented a cultural identity.
--an entertaining coincidence, is all. Enjoy!