Earlier posts from Uncle Barnie:
Uncle Barnie In Burkina
While I was in Essaouria a German man named Gunther told me if I was going through Burkina Faso, and was interested in music, I had to stop a place called Bobo Dioulasso.Â Gunther had the air of a man who knew his shit so I followed his advice and caught a bus from Bamako to Bobo.Â The ride took a total of 26 hours, and I pretty much needed to go for a piss as soon as I sat in my seat.Â I therefore rationed out my bottle of water carefully, which became torture the dustier and hotter it became.Â In fact it became crazy dusty.Â There was no air conditioning so the two doors were kept open the entire journey.Â This meant that the entire contents of the bus gradually got covered in dust, but also provided a welcome constant cool breeze.Â It was so hot and I sweated so much that when we finally stopped somewhere for a feed I no longer needed to go for that piss.
Urinary adventures aside we ended up pulling into a town called Sikasso at three in the morning and everybody got off the bus.Â I noticed when the driver turned the interior light on that everyone and everything in the bus had turned red. The last part of the journey was over earth roads, and I guess it must have been of a red tinge.Â We had to hang around at what I thought was a station until seven when the next bus taking those who were heading to Bobo would theoretically arrive.Â I sat on a bench and read my book for a while but soon someone who worked there told me I should probably try and get some sleep.Â He motioned to a room behind me and I went in. There was a TV blaring out some American reality cop show dubbed into French, and on the floor were about 20 African men asleep.Â No one was watching the television, and as I found a small area of mat to lie on I did have to wonder why it was on at all.Â I watched it for a while, and became glad everyone around me was asleep.Â These images of white cops beating on scores of African-American bad boys were not ones I particularly wanted to share with my new room mates, being possibly the only white (albeit red) guy in their town at that moment.Â It was definitely fuckinâ€™ surreal.Â A few hours later it became light, almost instantly, and I saw that I wasnâ€™t in a station at all but actually a large market.Â The bus arrived about eight.Â Poor thing, it was so old and battered and tiny it felt like I was climbing into a badly malnourished goat.Â We drove around the corner and waited for another hour and a half until it was full, then set off for the border.
Crossing over into Burkina Faso involved 5 different types of customs, police and military checks, and took about an hour all up. I felt proud for sorting my VISA out back in NZ, and took a photo of myself when the last check was complete to capture how brilliant I felt.
My metal goat deposited me at the Bobo Dioulasso bus stop and I caught a cab to my hotel. This place was actually a hotel, and cheaper than the restaurant I was sleeping at in Mali.Â I showered every part of my body for about thirty minutes, rolled a spliff, and ate a mango.
The balafon is probably the best known instrument from Burkina Faso.Â Â It is the ancestor of the xylophone and is constructed from specially cooked wooden slats fixed above a series of calabash.Â I was told about an area in Bobo called BalomakotÃ© which is known as the musical sector, so it was around there that I wandered on my first night trying to find remnants of a band called Farafina.Â Farafina was formed in the 60â€™s by a maestro of the balafon called Mahama KonatÃ©.Â Their mix of complex polyrhythmic percussion and intertwining balafon parts with spectacular dancers made them very popular on the world music circuit during the 80â€™s, and they enjoyed considerable success all over Africa as well as touring Europe and the Untied States.Â I decided the best place to find out about music was in bars so I went into numerous canteen type establishments, having beers at each one and chatting with the bartenders and older customers in my ridiculous French.Â I gathered a few leads, and feeling content with my first nights efforts I began my walk home before I got too lost and bewildered.Â I had made it half way there when a young man scooting past on a moped asked if I wanted a ride.Â I said sure, and he asked where to.Â Now that I had transport and a buddy I didnâ€™t feel like going home so I suggested we go to Bambou â€“ a bar I had heard about that had live music.Â Bambou was a lot like Le Diplomat in Bamako, complete with foxy waitressesâ€¦ a concept that drinking establishments have found to be successful the world over I suppose.Â Alas, there were no tunes at Bambou that night, but the young dude (whose name was Aziz) and I were having a fairly good chat thanks in large part to my French dictionary.Â I asked where I could try the traditional millet beer or dolo and Aziz said he could take me to a dolo bar right then.Â Brilliant.
Back on to his moped and we ended up at much more local styles place called Principe 2 that basically looked like a house with heaps of people in the back garden.Â We went over to where his friends were sitting and I soon found a bowl of dolo in my hands.Â Dolo is sort of like the colour and consistency of dirty waterâ€¦ much like kava.Â But it tastes like warm sav blanc with a good dash of sake.Â Not unpleasant, and Aziz showed me the part of the garden where the women were preparing the brew.Â That is why it was warm; we were drinking it straight after its rapid fermentation process.Â There was a DJ at Principe 2 sat in the corner playing a mixture of Bob Marley songs and Burkina balafon jams.Â He was playing tapes, and using a dual-cassette deck, except one was broken so he had to stop and eject, put the new tape in, then press play again.Â I remember marvelling at how the tapes started right off at the beginning of each song â€“ no dead air, but then later saw him winding tapes round with a pencilâ€¦ I guess cueing them up in a way.Â Still, impressive that he knew where to stop winding without actually hearing it.
After the dolo bar we went and paid a visit to a mate of Azizâ€™s called Clemson.Â It was pretty late at this stage but Aziz wanted me to meet him because he was an artist.Â Sure enough when we arrived at his compound he was up, puffing on a joint and finishing off painting a commissioned photo frame.Â His style was beautifulâ€¦ bright decorative pattern making with text.Â I loved it, and got on real well with Clemson who was a lot closer to my age than Aziz.Â We smoked a whole lot more, and chatted about all sorts of things.Â Then Clemson dropped the news that he was a rapper as well.Â He promptly gave me an a capella performance and I was blown away.Â I asked if I could come back the following night and make a recording, and he said sure.Â He would buy some more weed for the occasion.
In the morning I set off for BalomakotÃ© again to chase up my leads.Â On the way I met a young djembe player called Isufa who said he could take me to meet Mahama KonatÃ©.Â We walked for a couple of hours until we got to a canteen slash bar where a relative of Mahama worked.Â He said he could take me the rest of the way on his moped, so we bounced over the compacted dirt roads for another half hour or so stopping every now and then to reattach the mopeds kick pedal.Â We arrived at a compound with an incredible mural painted on its exterior wall depicting all kinds of animals playing instruments in the jungle.
I was lead into a small room with a very sick man lying on top of a bed.Â Two younger men were perched on a bench, their body language displaying respect.Â This old man on the bed was Mahama KonatÃ©.Â He sat up when I came in and was introduced to him, and he did not look well at all.Â There were black stains creeping over his dark and brittle torso.Â He was obviously dying, and it seemed as though those black stains creeping up his chest were responsible.Â He was smoking a cigar, and after chatting for a little while using my ridiculous French the younger men in the room led me off to the balafon workshop.Â I made a donation to the ailing maestroâ€™s healthcare and was able to make a couple of recordings of the two men playing.Â One of them, Son Bako, was also in Farafina and he played the balafon with virtuosity.Â I spent some time sitting with the old man again after the recordings were made.Â Mahama KonatÃ© is considered the Grandfather of the balafon, and is a living treasure in Bobo Dioulasso.Â I asked him about all the festivals and tours he had done and his face lit up as he listed off countries.Â I asked if he had ever jammed with a guitarist.Â He thought for a bit, as if trying to imagine how a guitar and balafon would sound together, then clicked his lips and shook his head, smiling and blinking slowly.
That night I went back to Clemsonâ€™s and made a recording of his rhyme.Â It is awesome and is about AIDS, and I would love someone to one day put a beat to it.Â My next two days in Bobo were spent hanging out with some Spaniards who were also at my hotel, one of whom was a magician and did some tricks for the local kids, and also spending evenings at the local clubs.Â These outdoor bars are all much the same, and ALL play reggaeton.Â My time in Bobo was swell and I felt a certain reluctance upon getting on my bus bound for the capital â€“ a capital with the coolest sounding name of them all I reckon â€“ Ougadougou (pronounced Wagadoogoo).