By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
After touring North America extensively for the first time, 2001 was Super Rail’s breakout year in the States. They wowed the Louisiana festivals in the spring and returned for a more extensive set of dates in the summer. ”We‘ve had a great time,“ Bamba said of their U.S. shows. ”It’s really been like a family party.“ Their two European studio releases, 1992‘s Super Rail Band de Bamako and the modern Afro-classic Mansa (1995), previously available only as hard-to-find imports, have been released domestically by Harmonia Mundi. Djelimady’s first acoustic outing, Sigui, came out stateside a few months ago. Mousset calls the album ”Djelimady‘s sentimental journey,“ a warm, deeply personal walk down a dusty Malian memory lane, reminiscent of the guitarist’s jam sessions at his home in the Lafiabougou district of Bamako.
The eight-piece touring version of Super Rail jettisoned the horns and keyboards heard prominently on the two albums, with electric guitars, vocals and percussion providing all the locomotion. This instrumental streamlining meant more space for Djelimady‘s mind-altering string work, giving guitar worshippers more chances to hear those hyperaccelerated arpeggios, subtly reverbed one- and two-note clusters, and uncanny griot-swing choogle. Feverish yet restrained, Djelimady’s rippling fretboard runs reflect his maturity but also the confidence of someone in total control of his instrument who doesn‘t need to showboat or put flash ahead of soul.
”One thing I like about Djelimady, I find he has a pretty generous side,“ says Mousset. ”When you see him working in Bamako, he lets the younger ones play. He doesn’t want to put himself in front. It‘s sometimes a little frustrating, because you go out to see him one evening, he’s there, he listens to his people, he plays a little, then he doesn‘t play. But now with the Rail Band, he is out front, he has a great time. And when he’s there [onstage], he‘s really giving all he knows how to give.“
When I finally met Djelimady backstage after the concert, I told him I was sorry he couldn’t make the interview, politely refraining from sharing what I really felt. He smiled, looked me in the eye, and said in his rolling French, ”Everything that I wanted to say, he can say,“ nodding toward Bamba. He added that ”He also speaks blah-blah,“ a not-so-subtle dig at his pal‘s propensity for self-promotion and chattiness. Trying to grab a few usable nuggets, I commented on the immaculate tone he gets with his deep-red Les Paul guitar. He smiled broadly. ”Yes, a clear and pure sound -- I like that.“
Djelimady signed a couple of my CD booklets with a squiggly, unreadable autograph, and I introduced him to my family. That was the end of our visit -- a two-minute ”interview.“ He went back to schmoozing with a small contingent of expatriate Malians. ”We are so proud of him! It’s Malian pride,“ exclaimed one tall, regally dressed woman. I wished I felt similarly elated, but my frustration at a missed opportunity still simmered. At least Djelimady‘s guitar had kept its promise that day, confiding bittersweet truths entwined in his infinite spiral of riffs.
Super Rail Band play at the Conga Room, Friday, July 26; and with Amadou and Mariam as part of Grand Performances at the California Plaza, downtown, Saturday, July 27 (free admission).