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US Rock Group Collaborates with Malian Musicians

  • Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

The Sway Machinery

The Sway Machinery

An up-and-coming rock group from Brooklyn, New York has launched a collaboration with local artists in Mali.

At Studio Bogolan in Mali's capital city of Bamako, Jeremiah Lockwood is working on the guitar part for a song on a new album by his band, the Sway Machinery.

The album's working title is "Why we make Pilgrimage". Lockwood says coming to Mali has been a magical experience. "I am coming here it is like a dream, and I am imagining something like a historical path, like the path the merchants and the people from the Middle East took down here bringing their music and their culture, and their swords of course, to come and bring their culture to this land," he said.

The Sway Machinery blends traditional Jewish music with a powerful horn section and driving drum beats. This is their song, Anim Zemiros off their first Album, "Hidden Melodies Revealed". Their next album will feature three songs by Malian folksinger Khaira Arby.

Arby says she can put all of the melodies she wants into their songs. And the Sway Machinery can play all of the music she sings. It is something that comes together well and sounds good.

Arby says this song she wrote, called Gawa Teria Mou, is about peace. In this version the Sway Machinery backs up Arby's voice.

Arby says the song is about working together in peace on the land, working together in understanding. The song says we do not want bombs or war, we want irrigation for farming and seeds to plant in the earth. Arby says the song is about ending war in Africa and around the world and was written in response to political unrest in Northern Mali.

During their trip, the Sway Machinery traveled to the annual Festival in the Desert in Northern Mali, in the sand dunes near Timbuktu, where they played in front of hundreds of people from around the world.

The U.S. State Department has a travel advisory for Timbuktu because of past terrorist activities in the region by the group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. The terrorist group is currently holding six European hostages.

Sway Machinery trumpet player Jordan McLean says that did not stop him from coming to Mali. "I did everything I could to educate myself about al-Qaida in Mali, and after weighing everything it did not seem like a viable enough threat to miss out on what would otherwise be an unbelievable opportunity and experience," he said.

The Sway Machinery musicians say their music takes listeners into hidden worlds, uniting past and present. Lead singer Lockwood says he wants their music to bring people together.

"I hope that when people listen to our music, the first thing is that they will have a joyful, emotional reaction, and it will be like coming to the center of the village and everybody is going to get together and dance. And then there is also trying to communicate some kind of information about history, it is maybe not facts, but some kind of feeling about the places that the music is coming from," he said.

This song Sourgou [SUH-roo-goo] on the new album, is also by Khaira Arby with drums by the group Super Khomeissa. The song is an homage to the nomadic Tuareg people of Northern Africa. Arby says she also wants to transport people with her music, taking them to her home town of Timbuktu.

When people listen to her music, Arby says she wants them to experience Mali, the north of Mali, the history of Timbuktu and the mystery of the city through her voice.

Colin Stetson plays the Baritone Saxophone. He says the collaboration is one of equals. "We are not trying to get anyone to do anything for us. We are coming to sit down and have people bring whatever they want, what they see fit. You know, equals around a table," he said.