Filed under: Mali
Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. In the late 1800s, Mali fell under French control, becoming part of French Sudan. Mali gained independence in 1959 with Senegal, as the Mali Federation in 1959. A year later, the Mali Federation became the independent nation of Mali in 1960. After a long period of one-party rule, a 1991 coup led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state.
With the coming to power of Mali’s second president, Moussa Traoré, however, Cuban music was discouraged in favor of Malian traditional music. Biennale festivals were held to encourage folk music. Old dance bands reformed in many cases, under new names, as part of this roots revival. Especially influential bands included Tidiane Koné‘s Rail Band du Buffet Hôtel de la Gare, which launched the careers of future stars Salif Keita and Mory Kanté.
Not all bands took part in Traoré’s roots revival, however. Les Ambassadeurs du Motel formed in 1971, playing popular songs imported from Senegal, Cuba and France. Les Ambassadeurs and Rail Band were the two biggest bands in the country, and a fierce rivalry developed. Salif Keita, perhaps the most popular singer of the time, defected from the Rail Band to join Les Ambassadeur in 1972.
In 1974, a “battle of the bands” concert between Les Ambassadeurs and Rail Band was held in Bamako to decide who was the most popular group. A concert was organised and both bands were instructed to write a new song for the event. The Ambassadeurs du Motel performed “Kibaru” (which promoted a literacy campaign organized by the national government), and by all accounts the audience went wild. The concert produced no clear winner on the day and it was officially declared a draw. Salif and Kanté Manfila recorded a further two LPs with Les Ambassadeurs du Motel before forming Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux.
Catalog number SAF 50014on Sonafric of France, released 1976.