‘BKO’ is the international abbreviation for Bamako Airport in Mali’s capital city. It is also the title of the forthcoming album by Dirtmusic, a group of rock’n’roll veterans from the USA and Australia, which was recorded at the famous Studio Bogolan in Bamako - set up by the late Ali Farka Touré.
All three members of Dirtmusic have a long lasting history as musicians and songwriters in various bands: Chris Eckman is the leader of acclaimed US band The Walkabouts, and has also collaborated with Willard Grant Conspiracy and many others. Chris Brokaw has collaborated with Evan Dando and The Lemonheads, Liz Phair and Thurston Moore. The two Americans are joined by Australian-born Hugo Race, the leader of True Spirit and one of the original members of The Bad Seeds. Eckman and Race were label mates and in 2006 they got together with Brokaw to form Dirtmusic. Dirtmusic’s first album, recorded in 2007 in Eckman’s adopted home city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, somehow got into the hands of the booker of Mali’s annual Festival of the Desert who invited them to perform.
Eckman had been a fan of African music for years, so when in 2008 he found himself silky dunes of Essakane at the 2008 Festival of the Desert, it was like a baptism, a revelation, an epiphany. “I spent those three days very much in a dream state,” Eckman recalls. “The music, the sounds, the sights...it was just something absolutely overwhelming.” Next to Dirtmusic’s tent was that of young Touareg desert blues/ rock band Tamikrest. The two bands found themselves jamming together almost non-stop and discovered that their ideas and music fit perfectly. It was clear that this jam somehow had to continue after the festival.
So a year later Dirtmusic returned to Mali to record their new album “BKO” – with Tamikrest backing them in the studio. Connecting in lateral ways, swapping jokes and mixing up English and French and Tamashek (the language of the Touaregs), the mutual language of both bands is really music, and the reunion became a jam session, a discussion in word and rhythm – traditional songs, Dirtmusic songs, Tamikrest songs, passing hybrids of the two. During their meeting in the desert they had played The Velvet Underground’s legendary “All Tomorrow’s Parties” together. When Brokaw struck up the first few chords of the song, Tamikrest just jumped right in without a second thought, as if they’d been listening to the Velvet Underground since the release of the ‘Banana’ album - which they hadn’t. Luckily, they recreated this jam in the studio to include on the album. The blend of sounds and influences on this track is stunning but also feels completely natural. The natural process continued throughout the recording. For instance, Tamikrest leader Ousmane Ag Mossa spontaneously sings in Tamashek over the groove to “Black Gravity” and a kind of fusion erupts between Dirtmusic and Tamikrest. (Whilst most songs are composed by either Eckman, Race or Brokaw, “Black Gravity” contains Ousmane’s own composition “Imidiwan”, meaning ‘friends’, which he ‘gave’ to his new friends of Dirtmusic to include inside their song “Black Gravity”.)
Other Malian stars paid visits to the studio: Fadimata Walet Oumar from the famous Touareg group Tartit lends her sublime vocals to “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and “Desert Wind”. Two master musicians from Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra jam on several abstract pieces, with one of them, “Niger Sundown”, being included on the album, while guitar legend Lobi Traoré plays on closing track “Bring It Home”.