Producer Jacknife Lee and Rokia Koné Team for ‘Bamanan’

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Rokia Koné (pictured) has teamed up with producer Jacknife Lee for her new album,
Rokia Koné (pictured) has teamed up with producer Jacknife Lee for her new album, ‘Bamanan’. PHOTO: Karen Paulina Biswell

Producer Jacknie Lee never spoke to the artist during the filming of bamanan. He was going through the early stages of the pandemic nestled in his home studio in Topanga Canyon, near Los Angeles, while Rokia Kone was on the other side of the world in Mali, West Africa, where, in addition to facing Covid restrictions, a real Rebellion took place on August 18, 2020, moments after recording his vocals for “N’yanyan” in a single take.

Lee came to the project quite by accident. He admired a guitarist named Salif while judging a remix contest sponsored by Real World Records and audio equipment company Universal Audio. When he inquired about Salif, he was taken to Koné.

Koné is well known in Mali. She made her professional debut as a backing vocalist for Alia Coulibaly, one of Mali’s biggest stars, and quickly achieved top spot as a solo performer. In 2016, she caught the eye of Valérie Malot of French booking agency 3D Family, who invited Koné to join feminist supergroup (and later Real World Records artists) Les Amazones d’Afrique and make its international debut.

Eventually she found herself in Mali, recording live in a studio in Bamako, backed by the band she performs with in clubs several nights a week. It was this work that fell into Lee’s hands.

Producer Jacknife Lee, gets to work.  PICTURED: Karen Paulina Biswell.
Producer Jacknife Lee, gets to work. PICTURED: Karen Paulina Biswell.

MEET JACKNIFE LEE

The producer, writer and collaborator, known for working with artists such as REM, Snow Patrol, the Cars and Weezer, is no stranger to working alone. It’s been working this way for a while now. “U2 would be on tour, and they would send me demos and I would just work on them,” says Lee, whose work on the band How to dismantle an atomic bomb won him two Grammy Awards in 2004.

“You get great things when people are in the room together, obviously, but when I’m experimenting or exploring an idea, sometimes I have to go very far from the original intention,” he explains. “If I like something and it’s not over, sometimes I have to be really bold with the idea. A lot of my breakthroughs happen when mistakes happen. Like with ‘N’yanyan,’ [referring to a song that ended up as a vocal-only track, though it didn’t start out that way] “If the room was full of musicians, everyone would be playing and I would never have been able to hear it with just the voice, and I wouldn’t have had the space to do it like I did.”

That makes sense, because it was his vocals on the song “Anw Tile” that captivated the producer when he received the first batch of files from Koné’s booking agent, Valérie Malot. And it was the voice that became the focus throughout.

“I started with vocals and built everything around it,” Lee explains. “That was the goal from the start. Vocal front and center. I mix as I go, so from the moment I work, the mixing started. It’s not a separate process. Most of the time, a vocal is placed last on the track, so it can be difficult to place in. That way, it prevented that from being a problem.

Even though he had no idea what Koné was singing, the meaning was conveyed in his moving delivery. “It’s gospel music,” he says. “It’s meant to touch God. I’m not religious, but I recognize spirituality when I hear it. She wasn’t afraid of being out of tune. She wasn’t afraid of not getting to the note she was looking for. It was real, without any affectation, and she wasn’t trying to impress anyone with her voice. She sang because she needed it.

Lee received the music in long, unfinished, jam-like songs. The musicians sounded a lot like a “bar band”, he thought, so the first thing he did was take them off the files and start from scratch. “I thought, ‘I’m going to have to be bold,'” he recalled. “I was impressed by his voice and thought, ‘I have to do something with this because I said I would.

BUILD A SONG

Lee records in Logic Pro, mostly using Universal Audio Apollo interfaces, but, he says, everything on the disc was played – “a lot of tech, old synths, a mix of tape loops, digital stuff.” The song “Bambougou N’tji” is an excellent example of his working method.

“It took me years to figure out the tempo of the original version because they were doing it live,” he says. “It was in 3/4, and it’s not an obvious tempo, so I thought I’d put an arpeggio from my DX7 and play it like Conny Plank did with DAF records, where they do a sequence, but as a sequence unfolds, they also play on a keyboard, which creates problems.This keeps it from being static.

“Then I ran a slightly different sequence on my Roland Super Jupiter, so they’re kind of in sync,” he continues. “They don’t have time together anymore, and sometimes they walk away and sometimes they don’t. Then my Arp-2600 does some kind of inappropriate string line.

“Then Salif Koné has an incredibly good guitar part that’s sort of muted, and I chopped up every note so they were just blips, and I did another sequence that would go to the against the DX7 and the Jupiter. In the original session someone played a Minimoog, which was a real treat, so it’s there, chopped. Lee realized he needed to add a beat in 3/4, so he used his Arturia DrumBrute and then added a delay in 4/4 with his analogue Yamaha 1010E.

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“Then there’s an instrument on the original version called a dunun, which I cut out, and a djembe that I cut out to be something that rumbles and rolls, more in 3/4 time,” he says. . “Then I added my favorite snare drum, which is called a (Pearl) Firecracker with a super tight headstock, and it almost sounds like a snare drum mixed with a bell or a timpani.”

On the chorus, Lee uses pads from the Korg M1, which he says he ignored for years because he thought it sounded “cheesy”, but he likes the sound again. He introduces another sequence, which provides a counter-rhythm, à la Steve Reich.

“Then there’s vocal call and response with the background vocals, and I have a Korg Delta, which is kind of a ’70s string synth, and it does kind of a hip hop, piano and organ. Then more loops with this toy piano from Critter & Guitari, then another sequence going through a Neon Egg Planetarium 2 pedal that has delays and reverbs and compressors. Then a third pad comes from my Oberheim OB8, a very 80s thing, and then I took a guitar loop from Salif.

The ending goes back to Kone’s vocals and sequencers, Lee says, with his vocal track run through an Eventide Harmonizer 3000 (“to give it width”) and the only software he used on that track, a Valhalla Vintage Verb.

When asked how long the record took him, Lee replied that he honestly lost track of time.

KONÉ HEARS THE MIX

Through an email exchange via a performer, Koné told Mix, “When I first heard Jacknife’s work on the songs, I was actually kind of shocked because they sounded so different. original songs. It’s not a typical sound we hear in Mali. Before long, I really learned to love what he had done. He was very respectful of my music in the work he was doing.

bamanan was released in mid-February on Real World Records, and Koné says she’s proud of how the record came out.

“I hope that we can only bring more strength to Malian music and its outlook on the international scene,” she wrote. “I hope to show that our music is very versatile and can be presented in many ways, through jazz, blues, reggae or even electronic music. We can feel comfortable in all these forms.

For Lee, work that involves a spiritual connection, something that sparks an inner feeling, has become increasingly important to him.

“I have two daughters, 19 and 20, and they look at their lives and I try to be an example for them of the choices to be made,” he explains. “There are good choices and bad choices, and if I say follow your heart or follow your passion and I don’t, that’s a lie. I’m happier that way and I bring a lot more joy into my life, and I listen to music in a totally pure way. And I make better records as a result.

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