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Born in Niafunke in Northern Mali, Afel Bocoum is a virtuoso guitarist of the Sonrai country, where music is tinged by the desert and gets its rhythm from the great river Niger. He was born to a Peule mother and a Sonrai father, also a musician. Having followed agricultural studies, Afel has worked since 1978 as a farmer and agricultural adviser.
His musical career began in 1968: at 13 years of age, Afel Bocoum joined his uncle Ali Farka Toure, also from Niafunke, in his group Asco. Though he left the group in 1978, his collaboration with Ali Farka Toure has lasted some thirty years. In the 1980s, he founded his own group, which he named Alkibar, meaning "Messenger of the great river" in Sonrai.
Afel plays the guitar, composes and sings. Traditional violin and the diurkel (a one-stringed instrument) add their individual voices to calabashes and percussion, creating an interwoven atmosphere of sounds that gently seizes the listener. The principal themes of his songs are forced marriage, homage to characters from local history, odes to nature and work songs. It's delightful to allow yourself to be rocked by these monotonous chants, slipping like noiseless canoes down the river.
Afel Bocoum sings mainly in Sonrai, his mother tongue, but also in Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg, and in Bambara. His songs evoke the evolution of Malian society, acknowledge women, forced marriage, and respect.
In 1999, Afel produced his first album "ALKIBAR" (World Circuit).
This album was recorded in Mali, during busy Ali Farka Toure (Niafunke) sessions. Afel benefited from the mobile recording studio provided by Ali's producer (Nick Gold).
Afel wanted to make an album in the spirit of the man he affectionately called "the Boss". With the blessing of the latter, he developed a repertoire and a soft and hypnotic style unique to him. His playing of the njarka or njurkle (one string fiddle and lute), his six chord solos, his increasingly simple melodies, his inspiration that evokes the earth, his conviction that he gives the best of himself to each of his compositions... all these elements are found on Afel's first album, even if he had already revealed himself on the cult album of his mentor (The Source). His style is accompanied by a certain roundness of sound. His playing is more serene, more confident and less tortured by the meaning of life. Perhaps this is a generation difference.
In 2002, Afel collaborated with the lead singer of Blur, Damon Albarn, on the extremely popular album "Mali Music". The gigs they played together were well received, especially the concert at the Barbican in London in June 2003. Damon also made a guest appearance beside Afel on a larger stage at Roskilde in Denmark in front of 65,000 people.
During 2004/2005, Afel & his group took part in the project "Desert Blues" in the company of Habib Koite & Tartit, the Tuareg women of Timbuktu. This project, expressive of Malian ethnic diversity, travelled to the heart of the Sahara and to Sahel. The three groups joined talents to offer an original repertoire, at the same time a mutual discovery and illustrating the influence of the Sahara on the musical traditions of each of them.
At the beginning of 2006, Afel recorded his second opus "Niger" in the studio of his bass player, Barou Diallo in Bamako, in collaboration with Daniel Boivin. With Niger, Afel takes us once again to the banks of the great river beside Niafunke, to one of the sources of the Blues... The theme of the songs is, in addition to the river and its surroundings, respect for women, the values of Malian society, and politics. In this opus, Afel truly assumes the musical heritage of his uncle, Ali Farka Toure.
In spite of his growing success, Bocoum remains gentle and unassuming, modestly directing the energy this recognition brings him towards the welfare of his people and the inspiration they give to his music. In the dancing melodies of the river and the palpitating rhythm of the hard desert wind, there is no doubt that the heritage of Ali Farka Toure is in good hands. With remarkable subtlety and a sure talent, Afel Bocoum has proved that he is a true "Messenger of the great river", and it's certain he will actively contribute to keeping Malian music at the forefront of the international scene.
"Afel Bocoum returns with a 2nd CD, seven years after Alkibar (World Circuit)...
With Niger, he takes us once again to the banks of the great river beside Niafunke, to one of the sources of the Blues...
In this opus, Afel truly assumes the musical heritage of his uncle, Ali Farka Toure"...
Release date : May 2006