5 Questions with LEAF performers Mande Foly

Photo by Chris Nelson

Leading up to LEAF festival, Xpress is talking to a number of artists from across the country and across musical genres. Local West African folk music outfit Mande Foly incorporates the kamal ngoni, syncopated rhythms and call-and-response singing.

Mountain Xpress: What’s it like to be a West African band in Western North Carolina, versus in West Africa? And does playing music so far away from its home change the music? What sort of WNC influences find their way into the Mande Foly sound?
Mande Foly:
In West Africa, Mandingue musicians grow up with much of the repertoire that Mande Foly plays, and can get together and make music without rehearsal. Because our group is composed of non-Africans as well, we must transmit the music and vocabulary to these musicians. Having diverse musical backgrounds, everyone brings something that influences the outcome and vibe of our music, while retaining that flavor unique to West Africa. WNC and West Africa share something in that they are both hotbeds for folk music. It’s also interesting that the kamel n’goni is related to the modern banjo, an instrument central to both old-time and bluegrass music.

According to the band’s bio, its music is improvisational. How much of that improv is happening in real time on the stage? Is there also an element of rehearsal and writing parts for individual players?

Our songs are arranged through rehearsal mainly, mostly for our beginning and ending breaks, and each player has a part to play in that song. Outside of that … people step forward for a lick or a solo when it feels right. Many ideas might emerge on stage, then we might repeat that idea the next show. But the crowd, the venue, the arrangement of our set list, the weather — everything affects our mood and expression on stage, individually and collectively.

Lyrics are performed in Bambara and French, languages most of your listeners are probably not familiar with. Do you think the message or spirit of the music can still be conveyed? Do you construct the music with this idea of bridging language barriers in mind?
Music plays an important role in transcending the struggles we face in Africa and in the modern world. Most of our songs are about aspects of social consciousness, and we hope this comes across in performance. The melodies are rich with emotion and they are sung and played that way. And, as our English gets better, we’ll explain the meaning of each song more often.

Do you approach indoor/concert hall shows and outdoor/festival shows differently? If so, how?

We adapt to the situation we find ourselves in. If it is an audience sitting down, we might bring a more stripped-down, acoustic instrumentation. If it’s going to be more of a dance party, we bring out the drum set and electric guitars. A festival like LEAF is an ongoing party, before and after the set you play, so it’s very different from playing in a concert hall. We expect it to be quite loose, fun, and we’re bringing the drum set and electric guitars!

What can we expect from your LEAF performance, and (besides playing) what are you most looking forward to at LEAF?<?b>

Expect a maturing and tightening Mande Foly. We have a solid group of musicians, and we’ve been putting a lot of time in together for the last little while, both rehearsing and performing. Plus, we’re bringing dancers! We’re looking forward to hanging out together and being immersed in music for the weekend with friends, old and new.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.