This was the first Arts Council of Wales funded project that The Successors of the Mandingue had the pleasure to manage. A collaboration R&D project bringing together our very own N’famady Kouyaté with Welsh singer, Sallie Maclennan, to create new harmonies and new versions of traditional Guinean songs hailing from the Mandingue tribal canon. After an initial stage of teaching and learning original songs the pair did a test performance as part of Butetown Carnival to gauge audience reaction (August 25th 2019).
The performance was followed by a research and development phase exploring the songs, and creating new lyrics and melodies during workshop type sessions. Both primary collaborators learned some Welsh during their sessions working with Cathryn McShane, as well as learning from each other’s cultural traditions. A final ten songs from those they had been experimenting with were then performed at an intimate acoustic ‘Africa Night’ event at Cardiff MADE on October 11th 2019. Of these ten, four had new lyrics in Welsh in addition to the original Susu/French/Malinke/Baga. The evening was extremely popular and successful, with a lot of positive feedback. For many, this will have been their first exposure to West African music (and that of Guinea specifically), and of its traditional instrumentation and song with a new Welsh twist.
This project facilitated the mutual sharing of musical traditions and finding common ground where fusions could be realised. By the end of the project ten songs were performance ready that incorporated either new harmonies, new Welsh lyrics, or both. Two performances were delivered in two very different contexts – Butetown Carnival and Cardiff MADE.
Butetown Carnival reached a larger audience at an early stage of the work, and profited from having the input of Fatoumata Kouyate Djeliguinet (who was visiting to perform her own set at the carnival), this aided Sallie with learning some of the songs from the perspective of a female singer. We were also able to link up with local musicians involved in the carnival to create a support band (Aaron Ahmun, Lawrence Ahmun, and Achille Mondo). They expressed that they learned a lot from the experience and highly enjoyed working with us on this unique collaboration. By developing, adapting, and innovating N’famady’s original representations of the Mandingue canon in a tradi-modern style with Welsh collaborators, this music was made accessible and exciting in its new context, forging new partnerships and possibilities to explore. This experiment was warmly received, and confirmed that there is a demand and appetite for further work due to the overwhelming demand for tickets for the Cardiff MADE evening and extremely positive feedback from both performances.
As well as the two primary collaborators, benefits were realised by five supporting musicians in terms of their personal development as artists, audiences at Butetown Carnival and Cardiff MADE, the community that is Cathays Community Centre, Cardiff MADE as a venue and its local community, plus the enrichment of Butetown Carnival’s programme.