N'goni report from Mali: July 22, 2014 / by Leni Stern

I can't believe how lucky I am!!!

I arrived in Bamako last night and went straight to Bassekou and Ami's house in the Bankoni district of Bamako. Haidera the great immam, fixed up all the roads, so unlike last year, the rainy season storms had not washed out the way up the hill.

Bassekou showed me 3 new scales on his 4-string n'gonis. He says they are the old way of playing like his father used to do...songs from the 17th century when Mali was a thriving kingdom. I recorded three new songs. His mother Yagare was in great spirits and started singing, like she used to with Bassekou's father. I heard the beginnings of the blues right there in Bassekou's courtyard.

I am still mystified about the tunings. Bassekou's father played the n'goni ba that's hanging in the living room. It has 5 strings and is tuned a minor third below the 4 string jelly n'goni. I had my tuner with me last night in an attempt to get to the bottom of the tuning mystery. From what I know today it is best to look at it like our altered tunings, there's one for every song. Boy am I glad that I don't have to pull the leather frets up and down since I installed fender tuners on my n'gonis.

Ami had prepared a big fried fish with noodles, american style. Men and women ate separately, on two sides of the courtyard with the tree in the middle. I loved being surrounded by all the children and their two new little cats... no mice in this house! I was very happy that I succeeded in convincing Ami that the danger from mice and rats around all these little kids was far greater than the evil spirits that could pose as cats, as people here believe.