Filed under: Mali
In the aftermath of General Moussa Traoré‘s military coup of the Malian government in 1968, state funding for the arts, theater troupes and musical groups disappeared. In an attempt to fill the void, the Malian Railway Company decided to sponsor a group that would be the house band at the Buffet Bar at the Station Hotel in the town of Bamako. A trumpet playing Griot named Tidiane Koné was recruited to organize the group, which was called Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare Bamako – or more simply known as Rail Band.
The band, which first formed in 1970, started off as a Jazz band that was also heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban rhythms. Eventually, the group integrated local Manding musical styles and traditions, with vocals in the Bambara language. From the beginning, the band featured electric guitar, organ, horn section and a drum kit along side more traditional instruments like kora, balafon, Ngoni and talking drum with Islamic-style, Mande hunter co-fraternity song, and Griot praise-singing vocals.
In the band’s first ten years, two of Mali’s best known vocalists – Salif Keita and Mory Kanté – had fronted the group. Keita left the band in 1972 to form Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel. The two bands had a fierce rivalry and would compete in “battle of the bands” concerts. This only fueled each band’s creativity even further.
Rail Band is still active to this day, continuing to record and tour around the world. Their latest album Kongo Sigui was released on the now defunct Indigo label in 2003. Many of their earlier recordings have been reissued on Sterns Music.