Have you ever been to Timbuktu (incidentally, it is spelled Tombouctou in Mali)? No? Well nor have I, so I found "Timbuktoubab," the documentary, riveting.
Markus James, a guitarist from California, has been visiting Mali over the years, and delights in performing with local musicians. The film starts out with a visually arresting shot of three musicians sitting amongst the Saharan sand dunes. They are joined by a fourth, and from there we take off on a whirlwind tour of the area.
The basic storyline covers the making of the various tracks of the compact disc, Timbuktoubab. The album is a cross-cultural collaboration with James performing in English and the musicians from Mali using traditional African instruments.
Hamma Sankare, Hassi Sare and Soko Sidibe talk about their different instruments in their native dialects with English sub-titles. Markus James also provides an English commentary throughout the video.
It is striking how apparently impoverished the lifestyle in Mali is, and yet there is such evident contentment in these peoples lives. The children in particular exude innocence and true joy as they interact with James and other adults. James speaks fairly fluently in the native language as he plays and enjoys relaxing with the local people.
The DVD includes music videos that could easily rival the production values of MTV. A lot of very sophisticated editing and planning has been used to showcase the music. Throughout there is emphasis given to the local dance, the Takamba. This dance is performed alone by both sexes, and involves a languorous undulation with very beautiful arm movements. The costumes are fairly voluminous and vividly colorful.
This area of Mali is home to the largest inland delta in the world, and it is there that we meet the river people. As their name suggests they live on, in, and around the river. One scene portrays very young sinuous boys poling their canoe-like boats with a skill that would make any Venetian gondolier green with envy.
Markus James is evidently in love with these people, their life style and traditions; at one point he is filmed in his California home with his adolescent daughter who accompanies him by playing the calabash (an African gourd used as a drum).
All in all, "Timbuktoubab" is a wonderful documentary, a must see for music lovers and armchair travelers alike. The fast pace and uplifting message bring a tap to the foot and a smile on the face.