19 December 2011

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who came out to our Open House & Welcome Day in spite of the crazy storm - nearly 30 of you beat the weather and were hunkered in William Byrd's lovely Grace Arents Library to share Chef MaMusu's Ginger-Bissap Tea, Goree African Restaurant's Peanut Sauce, good Malian music. Showing off Mali is our favorite way to introduce Richmonders to our sister city, Segou, and to Africa, in general. Our new bilingual SOL-ready storybook, Djita, a Malian Girl from Virgina, was available for sale, autographed by the author, VFOM founder Robin Edward Poulton. 

This event was an introduction to Virginia Friends of Mali so you can find out who we are, what we do, what we'd like to do and how you can be a part! If you missed it, we will do it again in March 2012, but you can always just email and one of our enthusiastic members will be right back in touch. 

Happy Holidays to One and All! 

12 November 2011

Dec. 7th Open House Event

4pm - Open House:
Artifacts & Photo exhibits
Video footage of the Festival Sur le Niger
Book Signing of our first publication
Djita, a Malian Girl Born in Virginia
Light refreshments

7pm - Presentation “About VFOM”
Join VFOM! Celebrate sister cities, cutural exchange, and friendship!
PLEASE RSVP! Email us! virginiafriendsofmali@gmail.com

If you cannot come, become a member, and 
consider donating to one of our many programs.

27 October 2011

Completed! These are photos of all four AUPAP project sites in Segou. Som

17 October 2011

Segou’s musical triumph in Richmond

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ami Sacko feted by Richmonders at the Richmond Folk Festival

Mali’s famous orchestra NGONI BA was the Toast of the Town at the Richmond Folk Festival. Led by ngoni magician Bassekou Kouyaté and his vocalist wife Ami Sacko, the orchestra of seven Malian musicians wowed the crowd, and ended the Festival at fever pitch as three or four thousand fans danced the evening away at the Dominian Dance Pavilion on Brown’s Island Sunday night, October 16th.

Kouyaté is an ancient musical name in Mali. At Sunday’s banjo workshop with four of Virginia’s banjo masters, Bassekou explained how he had learned to play the ngoni from his father and grandfather, and how his ancestors were playing music and sang the sovereign’s praises seven hundred years ago at the court of the original Lion King, Sunjata Keita. The Lion King founded the Malian Empire in the year 1235, and his legend became famous through the songs of his griot Balafasé Kouyaté, ancestor of Bassekou the leader of NGONI BA.

The griot plays multiple roles in Malian society: story-teller and praise-singer, poet and musician, guardian of state and family secrets, historian and diplomat, spokesman for senior politicians and also for suitors wanting to negotiate a marriage. You cannot choose to be a griot: the role is hereditary, passed from father to son and from mother to daughter…. And normally griot families marry between themselves. Bassekou Kouyaté and Ami Sacko both have famous musical griot names. Griots play a vital role in Malian society, and the greatest family of griots is Kouyaté.

The four-stringed ngoni is the musical ancestor of the American banjo. Brought to Jamestown in the 1600s by slaves from the Mali Empire, the ngoni was adapted and modified by American musicians into the 5-stringed American banjo we know today. Different adaptations were being made also in Mali. Bassekou told the audience that older versions of the ngoni were often made using a gourd as soundbox… but if you drop one of these, it breaks – which is why most ngoni players prefer a carved wood base that also delivers a richer sound. Bassekou played on both the four-stringed version, and his own invention of a larger, seven-stringed ngoni that gives him more variation and greater volume.

Bassekou’s group played on the prestigious Altria stage Sunday afternoon at 2pm, but they said that they most enjoyed their two evening performances on the more intimate Dominian dance stage, where they felt more direct contact with their enthusiastic admirers. The final Sunday evening concert developed an electric atmosphere between dancers and musicians. When Ami Sacko opened her throat and let her voice soar, her fans showered the stage with dollar bills – showing that many Richmonders understand Malian culture and know that famous griots expect rewards for their praise singing.

We heard many of the group’s famous hit songs; but we especially enjoyed Ami’s rendering of Musow, meaning ‘women’: “Let us greet all our women, and thank them because they take care of their children and husbands… they give birth to our children, they give birth to all of us…” This is such a very African sentiment, one from which Americans could learn a great deal.

Alou Coulibaly on calebasse!
Behind the four ngoni players, Alou Coulibaly provided rhythm with his hands on the upturned gourd, or calabash=calebasse, while Moussa Sissoko provided entertainment and energy with his shaker yabura and the talking drum tamani which he played with extraordinary virtuosity, and such speed that for the audience his flying hands were reduced to a blur.

We also loved the group’s rendering of Bambugu Blues, about a king of Segou in the 1700s whose sticking-out teeth were so ugly that he felt ashamed of them, and knocked them out with a rock. This song was composed by Vieux Farka Touré, son of the late legendary guitarist Ali Farka Touré who won two Grammy awards. On Bassekou’s CD I Speak Fula (on sale at the Plan 9 store at the Festival and on Cary Street), this track was recorded with Vieux Farka Touré playing his dad’s guitar. Two years ago, Vieux Farka Touré himself opened the Richmond Folk Festival with huge acclaim. Whenever Malian musicians play in Richmond, Richmonders go crazy with dancing joy !

At home I also have Ami Sacko’s stunning solo album Integration, and another album from NGONI BA called Segu Blues –a musical tribute to Bassekou’s home city of Segou, Richmond’s sister city.

The next time I shall hear NGONI BA perform will be in February 2012 at the Segou Festival of the Niger River. Virginia Friends of Mali will be taking a delegation Segou - to visit the beauties of Mali, to inaugurate officially the maternity clinic we have just built in Segou, and to enjoy the Festival. I sincerely recommend you to join us for this unique and unforgettable experience. Come with us ! This will be a memorable trip, one you must not miss !

Robin Edward Poulton known as Macky Tall
Vice-President, Virginia Friends of Mali
Tel/fax: 1 804 355 6821 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            1 804 355 6821      end_of_the_skype_highlighting rpoulton@comcast.net

23 September 2011

September 22, 1960


Virginia Friends of Mali wish a Happy Birthday to the Independent Republic of MALI!  Un peuple Un but Une foi 51 Years Young, Strong, Gifted and Determined!

Amis du Mali en Virginie souhaiter un joyeux anniversaire à la République indépendante du MALI! Un peuple Un but Une foi 51 ans Jeune, Fort, Doué et Déterminé!

07 September 2011

VFOM member visits AUPAP sites

1st Adjoint to the Mayor M. NIANG, (Segou), Dace (SCI), Adjoint (Segou), Dana (VFOM), Mayor O. SIMAGA (Segou)

Our good friend and executive committee member Dana Wiggins left on August 19 and returns September 14 from her turn as AUPAP project monitor and defacto Richmond city ambassador to our twin city, Segou. Notre bon ami et membre du comité exécutif Dana Wiggins quitté le 19 août et retourne Septembre 14 à partir de son tour que AUPAP projet de surveiller et de facto ambassadeur de ville de Richmond a notre ville jumelle, Ségou.

The following photos were taken in July and August and demonstrate that construction has been moving "full speed ahead" since funding and the rainy season arrived almost simultaneously. The Ségou contractors have been diligent and in spite of one wall collapse, Dana and Dace (Sister Cities International) have been able to confirm that a September completion date is likely. Les photos suivantes ont été prises en Juillet et Août et démontrer que la construction a été en mouvement à toute vitesse», depuis le financement et la saison des pluies arrivèrent presque simultanément. Les entrepreneurs de Ségou ont été diligents et en dépit d'un effondrement de mur, Dana et Dace (Ghana bureau de Sister Cities International) ont été en mesure de confirmer que la date d'achèvement Septembre est probable.

08 August 2011

Progress on AUPAP Projects in Segou!!

Segou project manager Madani Sissoko (pictured left with an old friend, the city hall gardener) sent the slideshow of photos below that document progress since July on all four projects: the latrine/washroom blocks at the municipal kindergarten, the public market and community health care clinic as well as improvements to the clinic's maternity wing.

08 June 2011

Quick visit to the Embassy

Robin, Michelle, Allan, Dana and Ana ran up to DC for the day to get visas from the Malian embassy for upcoming trips and to have a nice face-to-face with Adam Kaplan and his staff at Sister Cities International. The AUPAP latrine and maternity clinic renovation projects are moving, slowly, but steadily, towards construction even as we hold our breath that the work can get done before the rainy season takes a complete and slushy hold on Segou. We also discussed other projects of VFOM most, though not all, of which are centered on or based in Segou. Our annual visits to the Festival Sur Le Niger, hosting of friends visiting from Segou, intra-national youth film and photography projects, and the simple rewarding business of getting to know one another's countries and lifeways. All went well and we even managed to vacate the capital region by 3pm and so miss the exiting wall of traffic that is so many commuters' daily nightmare.

First Fridays means hitting the galleries and museums that are open for simultaneous opening receptions for new shows or are taking advantage of the extra pedestrian traffic to extend their normal hours. Robin and Michelle Poulton arrived in Richmond on Wednesday and so were able to meet Dana Wiggins, Ana Edwards, Bako and Fatim Sanogo at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center for a few hours. It was the first time that Bako, Fatim and Robin saw our VFOM exhibit Djita: Pearls of Wisdom from a Sister City. Dr. Elgersman-Lee (executive director), Mary Lauterdale (curator and assistant director) and Marcus Robinson (museum reception and gallery assistant) were on hand for their evening's program highlighting the artwork of Richmond area public school students - a VERY nice group of block prints - so please visit wwwBlackHistoryMuseum.org for details on that AND their current major exhibit, Pearls of Wisdom: Black Families and the Nobility of Everyday Living. Both exhibits run through July 1. It was a lovely night and hardly a precursor to the oven-degree temperatures we are now experiencing. Though I do love a warm summer evening, don't you...?

01 March 2011

Now through July 1, 2011

Djita: Pearls of Wisdom from a Sister City

Djita is a girl born of Malian parents in Virginia and educated in several countries. Through the young life of this iconic figure, “Djita: Pearls of Wisdom from a Sister City” seeks to illustrate the rich diversity of Malian culture with mothers and children at its core. Djita’s story is a tangible witness of global shared values. Through 1 July 2011. Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia

The main exhibition at the Black History Museum is Pearls of Wisdom: Black Families and the Nobility of Everyday Living. 
00 Clay St. Richmond VA 23219
804-780-0093 or information.bhm@gmail.com
Hours: 10am - 5pm / Tuesday - Saturday / Tickets $5 

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts permanent African Collection is very, very good and lives here in Richmond for your convenience, free of charge. The highlight of the museum's current offerings, however, is the special exhibition: Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art of Ancient Nigeria. Bringing together bronze, terracotta and wood sculptures and artifacts from the 13-15th centuries for a first-time traveling exhibition that reveals that African technological practices were interrupted by the invasion and exploitation of European trade and colonization NOT that African was in any way behind.  This show ends on May 22, so DO NOT MISS IT.

19 January 2011

Halfway through

Halfway through this year's visit to Mali and I've visited Bamako, Segou, Koutiala and I may get to Sikasso. I got here in time for the last of the Harmattan, seasonal winds that keep the days looking smoggy and the nights looking smoky and sexy like an old jazz nightclub. But nothing's old or jazz about the music scene here. I've only had a taste and really, it is gorgeous.

The photo above was taken in Markala at the local civil social services coordinating agency. Kida is on the right and the man directly to his left is the agency's director. Our visit was quick, but almost every social services issue a community can have touches base or is coordinated through this agency.

In terms of the business at hand, I've visiting all three of the AUPAP project sites, taken photos and am in the process of writing my reports. In all three instances the need is clear. And, as I was going through the photos from last February's visit to Les Poupons I discovered one shows at least 30 five-year-children lined up waiting in turn to use one of the 3 functioning adult-sized latrines.

At the public market site there are no public facilities at all and the market holds some 2,000 people on any given day. Men use the walls of nearby buildings and people in real need crowd the nearby Maison d'Impots. The director's office is on the second floor and overlooks one of the main walls used by men in need. He shook his head as he described what the smell is like during the summer months... At the CSCOM site, all rooms are too small and overused, the roofs routinely flood during rainy season and the grounds become almost impassable swamps between the main office and the maternity unit. For a site that serves the surrounding neighborhood and 10 villages (up to 44,000 people) providing new latrines is just the beginning of the tip of the iceberg. In any event it is clear these projects were well chosen for low cost high impact results.

06 January 2011

In Bamako til Friday

Report: first leg of journey to Mali for 2011. I will represent the VFOM at this year's festival and begin official documentation of the AUPAP site work when I arrive in Segou this weekend. I had a one day layover in Dakar Senegal to visit with my father and stepmother at their home and my aunt who was visiting Africa for the first time. My father determined my one day in Dakar was best spent on two sites: Gorée Island and the new national monument of Senegal. When you understand the geography of the slave trade era you recognize that this is part of the history of Mali's people as well.

Voici les images: