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Video: Life is Hard, Music is Good

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Mali sure has a rich sound for such a poor country. Despite the difficult conditions that face many Malians everyday, the nation has produced some of the most innovative musicians on the planet with musical traditions that stretch back centuries and serves as both the cornerstone of their cultural heritage and the foundation for American musical forms such as the blues, rock, and hip-hop.  Kanaga System Krush Records has traced this lineage into the modern day and explores the current state of Malian music in their new documentary Music in Mali: Life is Hard, Music is Good.

The documentary follows a number of Malian musicians and dancers as they spin inspired music amidst squalid circumstances. The film is shot in a visually brilliant style that contrasts the harsh landscape with harmonious sounds and showcases the bright and joyous spirits of the musicians that give Mali its unique voice. The feature-length film follows a diverse cast of musicians including Toumani Diabate, Djeli Mady Tounkara, the late Mangala Camara, the late Lobi Traore, Ami Koita, and the late Zani Diabate. Each musician offers a different facet of Mali’s modern musical culture and a unique look at the styles that have influenced artists the world over.

While KSK Records has finished the film, they’re still trying to gather up funds to give it a solid release. The creators have worked hard to portray the beauty and power of Malian music, so if you’re feeling generous (or eager to see such an incredible project released) don’t hesitate to donate to the project.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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