The 2002 release of Pili Pili is dedicated to the legendary city of Timbuktu in Mali. All of the 12 ballads with modern sounds give a new picture of the ensemble’s music and build on a musical trip through the city that is nowadays forgotten by the tourists. However forgotten the place is, Pili Pili’s journey reeks of the memories of a caravan trade centre on the edge of the vast desert in West Africa.
Ballads of Timbuktu
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Already twelve albums had been released since 1984 of European famous Jasper van’t Hof’s PILI-PILI. The 2002 release Ballads of Timbuktu is dedicated to the legendary city of Timbuktu in Mali. 12 ballads with modern sounds give a new picture of PILI-PILIs music.
TIMBUKTU – legendary city in the heart of West Africa
It was the dawn of the sixteenth century when Europeans first heard of Timbuktu: a city in the heart of West Africa, said to possess fabulous riches as well as universities and Koran schools rendering it a centre of Islamic scholarship. Its inhabitants thought so highly of education that manuscripts were its most valuable commodity.
The first detailed report on Timbuktu was published in 1526 in a history of North and Central Africa by Leo Africanus, an Arabic traveller who was enslaved and taken to Rome. For the Europeans just beginning to expand their mercantile activities to the coasts of Africa, the interior of that continent was unreachable. As non-Muslims they would not have been permitted to enter Timbuktu anyway, for it was a holy city of Islam.
Thus for many centuries Timbuktu remained a legend in Europe, a wealthy but inaccessible place. The legend lived on when the first Europeans finally set foot in Timbuktu, for the reality of the nineteenth-century city no longer corresponded to their expectations. Nevertheless, a great number of large mosques and countless Koran schools testified to the past glory of Timbuktu.
Even today, the city is still off the beaten tourist track. Yet the sound of the word Timbuktu evokes memories of a caravan trade centre on the edge of the vast desert, and so the name has thus come to stand for West Africa’s magnificent history.
According to twelfth-century sources, Timbuktu was nothing more than a well in the Tuareg area. In the thirteenth century, under Mali rule, it began its development into what would one day be the most important commercial city in the West African interior. Its power was founded on trade between West Africa, the Mediterranean region and Europe.
Mali exported gold, slaves and ivory, while importing copper, brass, textiles, cowries, glass beads, dates and figs. Before America was discovered, the majority of gold that was in circulation in Europe had originally come from West Africa.
Mali’s prodigious wealth is illustrated by an episode from the reign of King Mansa Kankan Mussa. On his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-25, Mussa stopped in Cairo. He put so much gold into circulation during his stay that the price of the precious metal collapsed for quite a time.
The discovery of America and the plundering of its gold reserves meant competition for West Africa’s most important resource. What is more, European maritime trade along the coast of West Africa was beginning to boom, so that the significance of caravan trade through the Sahara steadily decreased. Kingdoms near the coast — Benin and Ashanti, for example — took over the roles once played by Mali, the older Ghana and other empires in the African interior. In the centuries that followed, Timbuktu gradually transformed from a city of essential importance for trade between Africa and Europe to a regional centre of commerce between West and North Africa.
With its population of some 20.000, Timbuktu still lives from commerce today: Saharan salt is transported to the city by camel caravans; from there it goes to Mopti by ship on the Niger. Finally, a more contemporary mode of transportation takes over — lorries, by which the salt reaches the Ivory Coast.
Jasper van´t Hof – keyboards
Dra Diarra – percussion, vocals,koni
Mabinthy Sakho – vocals
Eric Vloeimans – trumpet
Stefan Jungmair – programming