"Super Onze are the real roots of desert blues - Mali's equivalent of Congotronics. This is how it all sounded before the electric guitar came in to the equation: Super Onze play amplified ngonis with virtuoso and hypnotic melodies, their raw, impassioned bluesy singing hangs over heavy takamba beats on calabash percussion. After years of playing at weddings and child naming ceremonies around the desert, this band rocks - not to be silenced. The real soul of Mali's northern desert."
Lucy Durán, School of Oriental and African studies, and BBC Radio 3.
“At the first Festival of the Desert in 2000/2001 there were many musical revelations - Tinariwen's trajectory has been well documented - but another very different group had a huge impact on me: Super Onze de Gao just played one rhythm, but what a rhythm! Devastating and unlike anything I've heard, the relentless beat from the two calabashes had the impact of the first time I heard the Burundi Beat, or the Musicians of Jajouka. Two distorted desert lutes circled around each other calling to mind Hendrix's most trancey moments or Howlin’ Wolf's band when their sound turns into a web of abstract groove. I love the way the Super 11 Album sounds, I love the rawness and distortion and the heavy calabash sound. This CD brings to the West for the first time the undiluted sound of the Takamba - Not for the faint hearted - it deserves to be heard by everyone who loves wild groove music with no limits.” - JUSTIN ADAMS.
“Magistralement Magnifique 5 ***** Les Inrocks (FR)”.
Wow man!!! this is shit is fucking heavy!!! I haven't really heard much of the real stuff like this and it's powerful”. Timothy Keiper, drummer of Vieux Farka Toure's band (USA).
_Super Onze de Gao - Artist Biography by Andy Morgan.
_Super Onze de Gao
Super Onze de Gao was founded in the early 1980s by Haziz Toure, Asaalya Samake and Agita Moussa Maiga, who became the group’s first president. All three were Songhai men from Gao. In the venerable tradition of so many west African music ensembles, Super Onze was created in order to entertain at community celebrations, preserve traditions, propagate culture and create a kind of ‘club’ or community organization which could support the needs and nurture the talents of its members. In other words, it was more than just a ‘band’ in the European sense of the word. The founding members are still alive, but now it’s the next generation that fills the active roles in the group. That’s another advantage of their typically African orchestral structure. It doesn’t depend on any one individual or person for its survival, and can thus better cope with the passing of time.
_Initially Super Onze de Gao played in their own homes, three or more times a month and especially on Fridays, the day of prayer and rest in the Muslim week. From the beginning they concentrated strictly on the takamba style, and were soon a popular feature of local weddings and festivities. In 1985 they gave their first ‘official’ non-festive concert, at an election gathering in Gao. The military dictator of Mali, Moussa Traore, was returned to the presidency with an absurd 99.94% of the vote that year.
_In 1986, Super Onze de Gao were invited to perform for the Songhai community at the French Cultural Centre in Niamey, the capital of neighbouring Niger, which is about a day’s journey by road away from Gao. Throughout the ensuing years, the group gradually consolidated their position as the number one takamba outfit in eastern Mali. They participated three times in Mali’s famous Biennales - a government sponsored national competition to find the best music ensemble, best theatre group and best dance troupe in the nation - representing Gao in regional and national finals.
_The Biennales were instigated by Moussa Traore in 1970 to instil cultural pride and community cohesion in the various regions of Mali, especially among the youth. Traore also hoped to strengthen the patriotic glue that bound Mali’s huge variety of cultures and ethnic groups together. Like many African leaders at the time, he was trying to build a nation from elements that hadn’t historically had very much in common. Moussa Traore has been branded a brutal dictator by history, justifiably so, but his Biennale system is one of the reasons that Mali is one of Africa’s musical powerhouses today.
_Sometime during the 1990s, Issa Toure took over from his father Haziz as the main singer of Super Onze de Gao. He is now their president. He comes from a family of Songhai farmers, rooted in the rich alluvial mud of the Niger valley. His son is also preparing to become a singer, and will hopefully take over the leading role in the group in due course.
_Super Onze’s leading ngoni player is Yehia Mbala Samake, son of Asaalya Samake. Yehia comes from a caste of Songhai blacksmiths. The role of blacksmiths in Songhai and Touareg society is very complex and very important. They belong to an endogamous group, which means you can only be born a blacksmith, you cannot become one. Until recently they were responsible for making almost everything necessary for nomadic or sedentary existence: tents, swords, spears, camel saddles, leather bags and cushions, padlocks, cooking utensils and, most importantly, jewellery. They still make jewellery and many other artefacts. But the role of the blacksmith has never been confined to artisanal manual labour. They’re also storytellers and guardians of family histories and lineages. They’re often called upon to negotiate between two rival clans, and to arrange marriages. And it’s their duty to play music at feasts and festivities. As such, their role has many affinities with that of the Manding or Bamana griot.
_Ahmed Ag Assalat, the second ngoni player, also comes from a family of blacksmiths, but in his case it’s a Touareg family. The other Touareg in the group are Aliou Saloum and Ousmane Yattara, who come from a family of wood sellers. The remaining two members of the group are dancer Fatoumata Sarre, daughter of a blacksmith and ‘Cola’ Toure, second calabash player and the son of a farmer.
_In 2003, Super Onze de Gao were invited to the third edition of the now world famous Festival in the Desert, which takes place annually near the village of Essakane, by Lake Faguibine, 60 kilometres due west of Timbuktu. Super Onze were the unheralded hit of the Festival. Robert Plant became a fan overnight, as did his guitarist Justin Adams. Both harbour a life-long mission to seek out the distant African and North African ancestry of the American blues. When they heard Super Onze de Gao in the silky white dunes of Essakane, it was nothing short of a ‘Eureka’ moment.
_Although Super Onze de Gao - who are also known by the alternative name Takamba Super Onze - became fêted regulars at the Festival in the Desert and were famous all over Mali, they failed to find a partner to help them launch an international career. They did make one off trips to Washington DC for the Smithsonian institute’s lavish festival of Malian culture in 2004 and the Sfinks Festival in Belgium in 2008. But it wasn’t until the arrival of the Dutch DJ and producer Horst Timmers, aka mps PILOT that their dream of international recognition began to be realised.
_Timmers saw Super Onze at the Festival in the Desert in 2003 and, along with so many others, was blown away. He returned to the Festival the following year, and found that the band’s effect on him was even more powerful. In 2008 he travelled to meet Super Onze and put together a plan to launch their career outside Europe. He enrolled them into an ambitious project that melded takamba with electronica, or ‘la machine’, as the group members themselves refer to new computer-based music technology. The project is called Future Takamba, it toured around Holland and Belgium in 2010 and in Mali in 2011.
_Timmers also captured Super Onze de Gao ‘sans la machine’, in other words, pure and simple, live and direct, in August 2008 and the resulting CD, released by Two Speakers Records, is the best record of raw and rootsy takamba ever released. If Justin Adams is to be believed, like him, you might just find it “devastating” and unlike anything you’ve ever heard.
Super 11 are: Issa Toure (vocals), Yehia Samake (n’goni) Ahmad Assalat Ag (n’goni), Aliou Saloum Yattara (calabash), Cola Toure (calabash), Fatoumata Sarre (dance) and Ousmane Yattara (dance).