Hip Hop is huge in Mali and Bamako is littered with makeshift recording studios. Most of them are tiny, boasting a computer, a vocal booth the size of a closet and little more. But there's no shortage of aspiring rappers lining up to record.
A lot of it is anodyne and seems to ape the whole "bling" scene in the States. I don't speak French, so the songs may be full of searing social commentary. But the five kilo gold necklaces and scantily dressed girls in most of the film clips seem to suggest otherwise.
There's even a burgeoning Battle Rap scene with rappers slagging each other off as well as their parents. Most of these rappers are rich kids, so their parents are usually prominent government ministers or business leaders. The government has inevitably become involved, giving the scene even more gangster cred. And a group called Sofas of the Republic have sprung up, offering "conscious rap" that denounces the excesses of the others. Basically, Mali's Hip Hop Cliff Richard.
Producers like Luka Guindo are trying to give Mali Hip Hop a more local sound, focusing on rhythm and cutting in traditional instruments like djembe and balafon. (I had quaintly assumed these had been sampled from musos keeping the traditions alive, but they come from a Native Instruments plug-in, developed for western producers.) The process is quick and dirty in Mali: masters are transferred onto USB sticks and transferred immediately on to phones.
If you're not in Bamako with a mate who can peer-to-peer the latest Luka or Visko production to your phone, finding the latest Mali music is trickier. There are two websites, Bamada City and RHHM, that you can check out – both based in France and both operated by expats – but there's an awful lot there. Occasionally you come across a gem, and more often than not there's a link for you to download it straight away. Just don't expect the bit rate of your MP3 to be more than 160 kbps. It's for phone, not your high end stereo.
It was on Bamada City that I came across this track by Dig Dio. The video is set in a dusty square – always a big selling point for me – and, instead of a baseball cap, Dig is looking very Madchester with a yellow floppy hat. The autotune is kept to a minimum and there's enough djemebe, balafon (and flute?) to keep everyone happy.