Eight years ago, 31-year-old teacher Jack Carneal moved with his wife and young son to Bougouni, Mali. While his wife was busy researching rural education, Jack became immersed in the region's home-grown musical culture, buying up hand-copied cassettes and recording live street performances. Upon returning to the states, his handing out of Mali mix-tapes for friends grew into Yaala Yaala Records, an imprint of Chicago's Drag City dedicated to bringing Malian music to more listeners. We exchanged e-mails this week.
What was daily life like in your village in Mali?
It was based on domestic rituals: hanging out with neighbors, going to the market, taking naps, preparing meals. Our son was only 2 when we were there so much of our livesthe joys and stressesrevolved around our being relatively new parents, and in such a dynamic environment, to boot. On the main it was fantastic but we lived in a cinderblock house with a tin roof, and when daytime temps got up to 115 we often longed to be elsewhere.
How difficult was the process of tracking down musicians, getting their permission to record them, and, well, getting a good take?
The 'getting a good take' part was so simple as to be nonexistent. They played, I recorded. The musicians, in many cases, would've been performing regardless of whether or not I was there, and in the other cases I'd met the musicians and hung out with them a little bit before recording them.
I was, coincidentally, obsessing over Malian duo Amadou & Mariam's Dimanche a Bamako when I happened upon the Yaala Yaala releases, but then I saw on your label's site that they're dismissed as music for "export", and not really part of the local musical culture. I had thought I recognized some similar musical motifs, but am I just a naïve westerner thinking French fries make me an expert on French cuisine?
I love Amadou and Miriam, actually, but yes, they were never once mentioned out in Bougouni. There is a scale that a lot of Malian and West African music is based on and a similar long descending melody line in some tunes as well, ergo the audible similarity.