After touring in New York clubs and accompanying American trumpeter Wallace Roney to the United States, Ivorian drummer Malick Koly is back in Côte d’Ivoire. At the head of the N’Kantila group, he has surrounded himself with four percussionists and intends to push traditional music against the steep paths of the free forms.
“You just say what you think … do not stress!“. With kindness, Malick Koly reassures the four musicians in his group who are not used to interviews. He has already toured the world, played on legendary jazz stages internationally, rubbed shoulders with legends … They have known the years after the difficulties of the war in Côte Ivory Coast, the bankruptcy of the cultural sector and representations at weddings and funerals to make ends meet.
The mercury sounds at 35 ° C in “Babi”, the economic capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Abidjan, editor’s note), but that does not stop the young musician from wearing a woolen hat. It has a fierce style, somewhere between the elegance of the 1960s and headgear American rap. In the Donwahi Foundation’s colorful garden, the exercises last until the late afternoon. “We’re resuming your solo, here we go“, he throws. Drums, dum-dum, djembe, bell: repeated music exalted by a touch of “free”, rising between the branches of bougainvillea. “We defend the traditional aspect of music, but we push to discover other things, to rediscover ourselves in a certain way“, explains Malick Koly, head of the N’Kantila project for a year.
the children of the ball
The drum prodigy is only 23 years old, but commands respect: his musical journey already resembles a jazz veteran. “As a two year old, I started on drums, later mehave started composing and I sawhas dmoved to the US when I was 11“. Malick Koly is a child of the ball. At that time, his father Souleymane Koly’s theater company gained worldwide fame. that Kotebath‘Abidjan, created in May 1974, brings together actors and musicians from across the sub-region. The troupe’s African vaudeville musicals, which mix theater and music, condemn the mistakes of West African societies. “My father was a sociologist, writer, instructor; my mother, singer, performer (…) I grew up touring with the troupeHe explains soberly.
To perfect his already very advanced musical education, he was still a child when he moved across the Atlantic to study at a music school, New School. In New York, he grows up, frees himself from family figures and multiplies collaborations with more or less experienced musicians. “About 16-17 years old, I started forming my own groups, with other peers my age, we toured all over New YorkIn the United States, the young drummer meets the demands of classical and contemporary jazz: lattice, composition, rhythmic technique and melodic research related to improvisation.
In 2020, his mentor – the American trumpeter Wallace Roney – died of the consequences of Covid-19. Complicated grief, questions: it’s the right time to go back to basics. “Musically, I knew I wanted to get in, I knew I wanted to collaborate, but I did not know how. I discovered that the kids from my dad’s troupe also made music“. All were trained by the father of Fofana Lassina, drummer for the Kotéba Orchestra.
Mix of two worlds
Upon his arrival at the Ivory Coast, Malick Koly must patiently learn the forms and codes of traditional music again. “I find myself in a position where I learn a lot, and in fact, in these three months of playing traditional pieces, like classical music, it’s as if you’re learning to play Bach. There are pointers, there are things that are really accurate, and it therefore requires a lot of care.“
It was only after this initial work that he invited Fodé Koné (main djembe), Fofana Lassina (dundun), Sidibé Moussa (dundun and bell) and Souleymane Kamisoko (djembe) to go with him into the bays of free improvisation. and adapt it to West African musicality. Go from “the language of traditional music“to drive towards self-expression, real-time creation.”Most people who learn traditional instruments learn it on the basis of a language so that they have a completed technique, it’s just that the register they use it in does not necessarily ask them about other things. But my understanding of the instrument is an extension of my body: I can establish what I want. I’m trying to establish that thought, and that’s actually where this project came from.“, details Koly.
“We mix two different worlds, Malick makes western drums, we make African rhythms, so when it plays, something extraordinary comes out, which is new to me“, notes Fodé Koné.”It’s a first experience, and it’s magic, I feel comfortable and at the same time I learn a lot of things“.
“There are rhythms that are western, that feel more western, pursues Malick Koly, and there are African rhythms being played more in the meantime; so these freedoms go against my freedoms … It feels like a tornado in the desert … It happens, you do not know exactly what is happening, but you feel it“.
That jazz musicians come to find inspiration and draw new sounds in Africa, “this is not new“, recognizes Malick Koly: John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, in the 1960s, then Alice Coltrane, Yussef Lateef in Nigeria, Steve Coleman in Egypt and a few others.”But I’m much closer to my base“, he recalls. Unlike these famous African-American jazzmen, Malick Koly is not looking for distant roots; he is back in his childhood land.”I have a lot more understanding of the social aspect. For my music is always socially engaged. It makes no sense if you are not socially engaged. What I am only adding is simply a libertarian element.“
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