Meeting with Lansiné Kouyate and David Neerman (Afrojazz, 2012)

Kouyate-Neerman, Palmwine Mandingo Party, Nuits Sonores 2012.

This unique musical experience is based on a duo: Kouyate, balafon player from Kangaba in Mali, and Neerman a french vibraphone player. More than a cultural meeting, the dialogue between this two cousin instruments is here pretext to creative explorations in rhythm and melody. Taking roots in both jazz and mandingo tradition, the created atmosphere is definitely modern: although recorded in an analog studio, the second album integrates the balafon with breaks and vibraphone effects research. The title "Skycrapers and Deities" reflects perfectly the approach, linking up modernism and tradition, concrete and mysticism, human and god. 

I saw them live in 2011 as a great opening for Randy Weston, and this month during Palmwine Mandingo Party, which allowed them to fully and freely express their original transe music in front of a highly charged dancefloor... 

Meeting with Lansiné Kouyaté and David Neerman before the concert:

MUZZ: Some Malian artists you like:
LK: I love all (smile!)
LK&DN: Toumani Diabate, Ali Farka Touré, Na Hawa Doumbia...
MUZZ: What about Jazz artists?
DN:  classics as Miles Davis... also Walt Dikerson (US 60s jazz vibrafonist who played with Andrew Cyrille and Sun Ra).
LK: Lionel Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson.
MUZZ: Do you have other good examples of musical meetings including african traditions?
LK&DN: Sarala, album with Hank Jones and Cheikh Tidiane Seck 
(MUZZ: on which Lansine plays the balafon; this album is just one i can listen and listen, as perfectly balanced between jazz piano and mandingo tradition). 
DN: Although, the approach is slightly different from  our actual work (which is more creating a totally new atmosphere inspired from traditions). 
LK&DN: Also Dee Dee Bridgewater’s malian project which is really great live.
MUZZ: Is tradition a necessary a element to create a modern expression?
DN: It's mandatory, you cannot build or create something from nothing.
LK: I come from a family where traditional music has importance from generations, my father was balafon player and my mother was singer (MUZZ: Siramori Diabate, famous malian «jelimusow» griot), so I would personnally hardly innovate without using this musical background. 
Also playing with malian National Orchestra allowed me to learn musical traditions not only from my own ethnic group but all musical expressions from Mali. It gives a solid traditional background, but the  elders  being also interested in jazz, modern and foreign musics, this is combined with a unique openmindeness and background to create new expressions with traditions. 
MUZZ: A track is title «Haiti» in your last album featuring Anthony Joseph. Have you ever imagine pushing a little further the exploration with caribbean influence including dialogue with a steeldrum or marimba?
DN: Actually what’s interesting in the track with Anthony is not really the caribbean influence but spoken work adjunction, so adding a third instrument is not planned. It has been several long years of work for me to integrate progressively in my vibe play mandingo and african specificities in order to create this innovative dialogue with Lansine. Now we really know how each other traditions codes in order to create an innovative and balanced dialogue as duo. I guess it would be harder to achieve this level of interconnexion in a trio with marimba.
MUZZ: How is perceived your music in Mali?
DN: We never had opportunity to play in Mali, but we’re just coming back from a tour in Zimbabwe (where a traditional intruments different but close to balafon exists), and the concerts were great, people being both curious and receptive.
LK: When I promoted our music in Mali it was a warmfull succes and went directly on TV. As young people in Mali are surrounded by hiphop and actual music from the world, the modern aspect of our music is easier to integrate, but being rooted in traditions it propose something special for them.
MUZZ: Is there any people considering that these bridges should not be built as a kind of dilution of a supposedelly original tradition? 
LK: Objections can always appear, but it’s globaly positive and also both expressions can co-exists.
MUZZ: Does «transe» component appear important in your music? 
DN&LK: Yes definetly.
DN: When we played at Lavillette Jazz Festival before Randy Weston, we were just coming out from the studio after recording the last album, so what goes out live is close to the recordings. Now, after almost one year touring there are some tracks we play during more than 12 minutes when the audience feel like traveling with us, which seems to be the case tonight...

The meeting followed with the musicians warming up dancing on a hot DJ set (I confirm David is a great soukous dancer!). Warm and packed amtosphere was perfect then for this huge and trippy concert.  Antoine Simoni (bass) and David Aknin (drums) also contributed perfectly on the rhythm section to put both a fat groove and an perfect evolutive frame for Lansiné’s frenzy solos or David’s distorsions and effects. No need to write a lot about it, just live music allows this.
Let's end with a particular track from the last album.
Kouyate-Neerman feat. Anthony Joseph  - Haiti:

Kouyate-Neerman, Lavillette Jazz Festival 2011.