About this Recording
76060-2 - MALI - Les Escrocs - Mandinka Rap from Mali

We sing the truth.
We do not want to be manipulated by the government.
We are not escrocs for nothing.

Mali’s Les Escrocs are pioneers in the fast-growing world of African rap and hip-hop. Since the early 1990s, the group has helped define the cutting edge of new music in West Africa, mixing traditional instruments with contemporary international beats, and boldly addressing sensitive issues of social and national politics: polygamy, AIDS, corruption, and the changing role of women in society. But what makes Les Escrocs stand out from the African rap pack is the group’s ties with traditional performance art forms. The group’s founder and principal composer, Mamadou Tounkara, is a Mandinka griot, a man born to a family tradition of music and historical praise-singing. When he was a young student, Mamadou started rapping as a kind of protest. “At that time,” he recalled, “youth did not have the right to words. But through rap, we could express ourselves about things that are not good in our society. We could reclaim our rights. I saw that rappers are actually griots. It's almost the same thing.” Much has been said about the griot’s role as a praise musician, but Mamadou points out that in the past, griots were also feared for their truth-telling and criticism as well. Far from imitating a foreign style, Mali’s young rappers are reclaiming a neglected piece of their own heritage. “Everyone says that rap is from America,” says Mamadou. “I could say that the Americans have modernised it, but it is not theirs, because the people who began rap in America were Africans.”

Mamadou started Les Escrocs with two friends, and from the start, he knew he wanted to follow his own road in music. “I did not want to make rap with machine rhythms, but with purely traditional instruments, to show that you can make this music with the instruments we have here, and that Mali is very rich in culture. We call our style Mandinka rap.” Les Escrocs means literally the ‘swindlers’ or ‘crooks’. But the term is used colloquially to describe a person who cannot keep his mouth shut, who has to say the truth no matter who is offended, or how impolitic their words might be. One of the group’s first songs, Saara, attacked the cherished Muslim custom of polygamy. The song says that for a man to have multiple wives made sense in the old days when people lived off the land and every hand counted, but now, in an era of work for pay, no head of household can support so many wives and children. Hungry and abandoned in city streets, kids turn to crime and prostitution. “You're not in the bush anymore!” taunted Les Escrocs. And people listened.

Les Escrocs made their first recording with help from another griot, the master of the 21-string kora, Toumani Diabate. Toumani and other older musicians encouraged the group to stick with its engaged, roots approach, and before long, Les Escrocs found themselves on national television, giving all of Mali a powerful rebuttal to the common idea that rappers were all dropouts and delinquents. From there on, the group’s popularity has climbed steadily. Les Escrocs started out as a trio of rappers, but after Mamadou’s two cohorts left to study abroad, he was joined in 1999 by Salim Diallo. The two went on to make four albums, Kokadje (Transparency), Kalan (Study), Can 2002, and a new work nearing completion as this CD goes to press. These fourteen tracks offer a retrospective of the first decade of Les Escrocs, one of the most innovative and talented groups to emerge from the awesome crucible of ancient and modern arts that is Mali.

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