Begin at the end, so they say, and the end for Lobi came suddenly and out of the blue. He died in June at 49. Like Habib Koite is, Lobi was a people’s musician. Friendly and down to earth, Lobi was well known to hustlers and music fans alike in clubs like the Djembe in Bamako. A short time before his death, he grabbed half an opportunity to record an album and here it is
I took the seat proffered me in the Djembe club a few years ago and the quiet denim-clad guy sitting next to me drinking a beer was introduced to me as Lobi. Among the noise and confusion, there was an odd calmness coming from his person.
His life was the guitar and it had taken him here from nearby Segou and on a few occasions abroad. It hadn’t turned him into a global star but it had given him a living doing what he loved and a loyal following because Lobi belonged to the people of Bamako and they loved him for that.
Mali is a hard place to live but it has some advantages for a musician. Firstly, music is core to almost every Malian person, it really, really matters. Secondly, a thriving pirated cassette network and radio stations mean your tunes are going to get heard far and wide and among those listeners will be the bar owners who might hire you and the wedding organisers who might put some work your way. Because of the style he played, perhaps he got more of the former than the latter type of work but one thing true of every musician is the unique climate. Mali has about five months of the year that are not too hot to work in the day and not so wet as to make travel and most other things impractical. But it has a blisteringly hot dry season and a wet season that makes even getting around Bamako a real challenge. What else can a musician do during the day but practice and practice?
Rainy Season Blues is Lobi’s statement of how he interprets the core elements of Bambara music and is no doubt the result of many rainy seasons, trying this and that and always having to retune those strings. Songs of old and songs new to recording are laid out here in blissful simplicity; just Lobi and his guitar. No other musicians and no overdubs. It’s not maybe what he wanted but when the chance of getting a recording came his way, he grabbed it even if it wasn’t possible to get the full band sound down.
Perhaps the same evening but certainly around the same time as I met Lobi, a producer Chris Eckman met Lobi in the same club and started a relationship that would continue by email over the next couple of years. When Eckman returned in 2010 to the famous Bogolan Studio to record another band, Lobi had understood that he was going to record him and the band at the same time. When the confusion cleared, they snatched these ten sparse but compelling songs out of thin air and I am so grateful they did.
The result is blissfully soft, the gentle, slightly raspy tones of Lobi’s voice and skilled picking on tracks like Hin?© (to take but one example) take you a world away from the city and take you gently down the River Niger at dawn, the current doing the work for you as you travel deeper into the ancient Kingdom of Segou and Lobi entones in Bambara, ‘to every thing his time.’
In fact all the songs reflect lyrically the observations of that bar room philosopher who saw all, said little and sang much.