Africa Express Strikes the Right Note

by ptinti

The Wall Street Journal

André de Ridder, one of the world’s most daring conductors, has hit a minor snag. His flute-player, Cheick Diallo, can’t play F-sharp.

Mr. de Ridder is based in Berlin, often working in London. Mr. Diallo normally plays at Tempo, a small nightclub here in Mali’s capital. Otherwise, he gets by from the money he earns playing traditional ceremonies—”weddings, baptisms, funerals . . . all of that,” he says.

Messrs. de Ridder and Diallo are recording this particular session in an impromptu music studio just off the banks of the Niger, on the third floor of the Maison des Jeunes, a not-quite-dilapidated art space that doubles as a bar and hostel of sorts.

Mr. Diallo is playing the traditional flute of his ethnic group, the Peuhl, also known as Fulani in much of West Africa. When he delicately trills in the lower registers of his long, wooden instrument, he produces a sound that would embed inconspicuously within a Western orchestra.

Seconds later, the entire room jumps when Mr. Diallo employs more indigenous techniques, attacking each note with a jarring yelp, then creating two-note harmonies as he hums and plays simultaneously.It seems like Mr. Diallo can make just about any sound come out of his simple instrument. Any sound, that is, except an F-sharp, which Mr. de Ridder needs him to play as part of his attempt to re-create Terry Riley’s minimalist classic “In C” with Malian musicians.

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