Idrissa Soumaoro

What did they become?
Idrissa Soumaoro
"war veteran" of the Malian music

The hero of our column today is famous today because of his song "Ancien combatant" (war veteran). Beyond this success, we don’t know a lot about him. Idrissa Soumaoro is passionate of music and teaching and preferred to share his vocation with handicapped children than exploiting his huge talent of author, composer interpreter. Beyond the "Ancien combatant", who is this artist confirmed "ninproudent et provocateur” by his satirical humour?

Idrissa Soumaoro? Don’t know! Petit n'improudent provocateur" ? Ah! The singer of "Ancien combatant”?
Here is the result of a little inquiry we made in Bamako. The song is very well known and appreciated because it’s full of humour but the singer is still unknown for the majority of his fans. And yet this song has been one of the greatest successes of the Malian music. Idrissa Soumaoro has no complex to recognize that he’s a farmer because he was born in 1949 in Ouéléssébougou. Every body knows that a farmer is discreet.

When he was a child, he identified himself very early to the school director of his village who was his own brother in law: late Drissa Diakité. “I admired him for hi generosity, his modesty, his simplicity and especially because of the talent and the passion he had in transmitting knowledge to other people, to children” said the musician. This admiration led him to music and teaching. He began by playing Hindu tune with his flute and his spiritual father (his brother in law) offered him his first guitar. The student grew up near the teacher with only one ambition: to become an artist to help people through his talent and knowledge. He first went to the national art institute of Bamako then his eternal search of a solid formation led him in England.

He came back with a certificate of music in Braille from the royal college and a diploma of specialised education for blind people from the University of Birmingham. So he became one of the rare African specialists (more over not blind) of the teaching of music in Braille.

The talented child of Ouéléssébougou has now an experience of more than thirty years of in teaching among which 18 spend in the national institute for blinds in Mali this is now the institute for the young blind. He was the director of this institute during two years (1994-96). Almost all the famous young blind artists of the moment have beneficiated of his generosity and his knowledge beginning with the most famous ones: Amadou and Mariam Bagayoko.

He’s now the general inspector of music at the secondary teaching inspection. He spent more than thirty years at the service of other people neglecting the artistic success his huge talent promised him to. He surely had the admiration of his brother in law whom he lost a few years ago in a circulation accident.

Disinterested in the domain of music, Idrissa Soumaoro is an author, a composer and interpreter. He composes with guitar, piano and kamelen n’goni. In the past he was part of the band "Ambassadeurs" of the motel of the station (ex-band of Salif Keita), today he has his own orchestra "les Compagnons" and they animate at the hotel “l'Hôtel de l'Amitié” (which is now being repaired), Eden village, Comoguel…
All music has brought to me is the feeling to have done my best for the other by sharing my passion and vocation with them. This is a great solace for me.” said the music teacher. The man has never mistaken art or talent for money. “If I was interested in money, I could have made a fortune on music and teaching. Wherever I’ve studied or worked in England, they asked me to stay but it has never been my will or ambition. The most important thing to me was to take part in the socio-professional reinsertion of my young pupils. It would have been very selfish to stay there. I think that there is nothing more precious than sharing one’s knowledge with other people, especially with children disfavoured by nature. I had the chance to do it and I think that it’s a chance which is not given to every body. Nothing else is important” he said. First francophone not blind to go to the Royal College and to the university of Birmingham to learn how to teach music in Braille, Idrissa built himself a solid reputation of conscious and rigorous worker, of moral and professional integrity in England and everywhere he had worked in Mali.

The teacher thinks that Malian music has really evolved. “We have today a lot of artist who have imposed themselves in the international showbiz. The creation of TV, private radio and press has in a general way helped in the evolution”.
The gifted band leader has been in the jury od several artistic and cultural competition such as biennales, discovery of young talents of Malian music, tabalen, festival of the pupils and students of Mali (FESTEL) … A confidence and gratitude largely deserved by this educator who sacrificed his life for the success of the other.
The famous song “Ancien combatant” is not the fruit of imagination it’s an anecdote that make our singer and his friend of the time laugh a lot. He related it to us:

"Ancien combatant” is real story. The war veteran in question was the father of my best friend Madou Sacko (now driving a school in Bamako). Our “Grin” (friend band) was always at his house. One day while we were taking tea in the afternoon, his father shouted so loudly that we all were afraid. We run to see what was happening. He then explained to us that a boy from a neighbouring family had come to beat his sister just near him. The girl had come near the father to have protection. Offended by such a lack of respect, he then began to shout and insult. You know, when a war veteran get angry, he express himself in a very bad French language which is the symbol of the power and domination n his eyes. We laughed so much that day that we finally went to hid in our room in order to avoid getting him angrier… and when this happened, I already have a tune on the guitar but no lyric for the song. I then used the anger of the war veteran to compose my song. I improved it slowly during our discussion at the grin drinking tea. I recorded it at the radio Mali in 1969.

The late war veteran had a helmet in his room. A bullet had come through it from forehead toward the back of the neck. But at that time, helmets were so big that the bullet couldn’t have touched the head. However, nobody has ever contradicted him when he said that a bullet come through his head by the forehead and come out by the back of his neck.

Musical carrier
At least the first “baby”!
The musical surprise of this year 2003 will surely be the first album of the long and rich carrier of Idrissa Soumaoro. The baby is christened “koté”, like “kotéba”. In reference to this traditional satirical art that have the virtue to criticise without offending.
Presenting people through their bad behaviour and character and the authoritarian excess of the chiefs, the kotéba’s goal is to lead those who recognise themselves in it to get aware of their defaults in order to ameliorate their social behaviour. It’s the same ambition that pushed Idrissa Soumaoro to enter for the first time in a studio to record his songs.

Produced by “Syllart Production”, koté is an album of 14 fantastical tracks among which the remake of the songs "Ancien Combattant", "Mbadew", "Dougoulamini (remake of a song of late Toumani Koné "... this album was recorded at the studio Bogolan of Mali k7 and mixed in Paris, with collaboration of Ramata Diakité and Mamou Sidibé (chorus), Boubacar Gakou "Babouya", Adama Coulibaly, etc. as it was foreseeable, Koté is very acoustic with influences of the music of the hunters of Mali, also of jazz and blues…also rumba influences because the artist is nostalgic of the Congolese music of the time of the Franco & Tout Puissant OK Jazz and other Kabassélé. The album is then a sumptuous mix of kamelen n’goni, karignan and flute…and accordion, harmonica, Hawaiian guitar other percussion.

The singer let some place for love on his album. “I sing to make people come closer and love each other without taking into account the sex, the colour, the religion etc…
If people really love each other sincerely, our country, our continent, our planet can be sheltered from the conflicts that exist today; and it can improve life in our society due to tolerance and mutual aid” said this artist who’s fighting for social, political and economical integration of our region and continent. Koté is eagerly awaited by the ones who have already heard samples on the radio. So do not hesitate to buy this wonderful album but be careful to pirated tapes!

"Ramsès" (Sidi Soumaoro) of the band Tata Pound is taking over his father, not in the same style but with the same engagement.

P 03/03/2004