RAIL BAND, MORY KANTE & SALIF KEITA
Mali - Early 70s
Rail Band is one of African pop music's most important bands, a sort of African answer to The Beatles or Rolling Stones. The parallels are not as unlikely as they may at first appear. Both the Beatles and Stones began by copying American prototypes, while in 1960s and 1970s Africa people copied Cuban music. After liberation, several African governments wished to do something to stimulate their own African culture and several of them - for example the Governments of Mali and Guinea - set about constructing state bands. Without coercing musicians to play only traditional music, they gave them instruments and put them on the state payrolls. Several of these bands came to play an important role in the blossoming of African music in the 1960s and 1970s, among other reasons because many artists for the first time had access to modern instruments such as electric guitar, keyboard and saxophone. Rail Band belongs to this tradition but stands in a unique position because of its closeness to the Malian railway. In 1970 the stationmaster in Bamako asked the Griot Tidiana Kone to put together a band that could play in the foyer of the railway hotel and drive the culture forward. In the beginning Rail Band played for hours, a cultural blend of pop songs and more traditional Malian songs with modern settings. Salif Keita came to the group in the early days as a singer and was with them for ages before breaking out and forming Les Ambassadeurs. Mory Kante started his career with Rail Band when he studied the kora in Bamako. One day Salif Keita arrived too late to play, so overtook Mory Kante as vocalist, and both worked for a while as singers. In the five years that Rail Band existed, they developed a special style and mixed calypso and Latin American music, jazz and big band sounds with their own, local traditions.
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