From Soldier to Artist: Askia Modibo

A talented musician with an incredible life story

By Timbuktu Renaissance

Founded in 2008 by Mangala Camara and a close friend, Mieruba-ML is an artist-led independent music label based in Ségou, Mali. The label’s mission is to honor, protect, and promote Mali’s musical heritage and melodies while ensuring that men and women of the golden era of creativity in the years following independence do not go unrecognized.

Askia Modibo in Studio (2016-08-01) by Moussa Koussa DiarraTimbuktu Renaissance

Passing the baton

Before passing, Mangala made sure to recruit Askia Modibo to join Mieruba-ML. A fellow enigmatic and talented musician with an incredible life story, Askia also struggled with fame and the business side of a professional music career despite being billed for international stardom in the mid 1990s.

Askia Modibo: Heritage (2017) by Delphine GatinoisTimbuktu Renaissance

In early 1968, at the maternity ward of Macina, a small town in Mali’s Inner Niger Delta, a special visitor was in town. Twelve babies were delivered that day--11 girls and 1 boy. The visitor picked up the baby boy and requested that the parents name him after himself.

Askia Modibo: Heritage (2017) by Delphine GatinoisTimbuktu Renaissance

The mother's best friend was a Songhoy woman from Gao, and she had already promised to name the boy after Askia Mohamed Touré I, the Songhoy Empire's most important ruler. But the request to name her son Modibo was extraordinary.

President Modibo Keita visiting Yugoslavia (1961-06-20) by Dragiša ModrinjakTimbuktu Renaissance

The special visitor touring the maternity ward in Macina that day was the Republic of Mali's first president, Modibo Keïta.

President Modibo Keita and his team riding in a A-3000 bus (1961-06-20) by Dragiša ModrinjakTimbuktu Renaissance

Askia Modibo would never meet his homonym given that President Keïta was toppled in coup d’état on November 18, 1968 and passed away in prison on May 16, 1977.

However, that sense of patriotism and pan-africanism that President Modibo Keïta espoused from Jamaica to Ghana was ingrained in him forever. And in 1996, Askia would compose what is considered by Malians as the second national anthem of the country.

Mali's 4th place finish in the 1994 African Nations Cup was a huge boost for the country's morale after decades of military dictatorship. Askia believed it was vital to honor them and emphasize messages of patriotism and winning and losing with dignity.

Faut Pas Tirer (2017) by Askia ModiboTimbuktu Renaissance

While music was his life and Askia really wanted to be a musician, his lifelong dream was to be a soldier. He passed his high school entry exams but signed up for military service where he was trained as a radio operator and grenadier.

Askia Modibo in Studio (2016-08-01) by Moussa Koussa DiarraTimbuktu Renaissance

From Soldier to Artist

Even as a soldier, Askia’s guitar was never far from his grasp. He entertained his camarades wherever he was posted but seven years into his military service and with increasing tensions and insecurity he took a leave of absence--one that is still ongoing--to focus on a professional music career.

Askia Modibo in studio getting ready to record (2016-08) by Moussa Koussa DiarraTimbuktu Renaissance

The place to be for a young, ambitious musician was Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire and there Askia would eventually meet another Koné better known as Alpha Blondy, an Ivorian reggae superstar.

Askia Modibo sifting through his song book at Mieruba Gallery (2016-08) by Moussa Koussa DiarraTimbuktu Renaissance

Although Askia was steeped in the Bambara music of his ancestors, his upbringing coincided with the availability of Bob Marley, James Brown, and Fela Kuti tapes.

Askia’s roots can be found in Cinzana, in the part of Mali many musicologists consider the origin of the blues. He is the nephew of the ngoni master and saxophonist Tidiani Koné (founder of the Rail Band Orchestra) and the diva Tita Koné.

Askia Modibo singing in studio (2016-08-01) by Moussa Koussa DiarraTimbuktu Renaissance

His connection with Alpha Blondy was life changing. His mentor, world renowned for politically charged and socially conscious lyrics became a bulwark for Askia in substance and style.

Askia Modibo and Natalie recording vocals (2016-08-01) by Moussa Koussa DiarraTimbuktu Renaissance

His first cassette was released in 1988 and when a top presenter on Ivorian TV selected his song “Allah Akbar” as the show's theme song, Askia finally became a star not just in Cote d’Ivoire but across West Africa.

Credits: Story

Mangala Camara
Askia Modibo
Mieruba-ML
Syllart Records
Moussa Koussa Diarra
Delphine Gatinois
Adama Kouyaté
Dragiša Modrinjak
Pierre-Yves Beaudoin
Emmanuel Prost

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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