Flem is a rising French emcee, who has developed a reputation for his fluid flow and conscious themes — and as a result, he has worked with an eclectic array of French artists includes Sages Poètes de la Rue’s DanyDan, Assassin‘s DJ Duke, La MC Malcriado‘s Izé Bosineau and Aethority‘s Mattias Mimoun and a growing list of others. His forthcoming album Nomades, which is slated for an October 2020 release finds the rising French emcee collaborating with acclaimed Malian singer/songwriter Vieux Farka Touré — with the result meshing contemporary hip-hop and traditional African blues.
Interestingly, the duo’s collaboration and friendship can be traced back over a decade — with Flem and Touré sharing stages at festivals at shows from Paris to Timbuktu. Some time ago, the pair were performing in Niafunké, Mali, a stronghold of the Touré family,. when Flem along with a small group of Westerners were quickly evacuated to Bamako, Mail, narrowly escaping an attack. This particular event managed to strengthen the pair’s friendship and reinforced the need for them to create a new project that was much more urgent, conscious and militant than they had done individually.
Over the better part of the past decade, Mali has been split apart by a bloody civil war between different warring religious and ethnic factions, undermined by unbalanced international relationships, rampant corruption and terrorism. Nomades touches upon the historical and cultural link between Europe and Africa, the ethnic conflicts that have been used by foreign countries, who have economic interests across the continent, the emigration of African youth for a better way of life anywhere they can, monetary independence, freedom, love and hope and so on.
Nomades‘ first single is a perfect example of the album’s overall sound: Touré’s looping, shimmering and expressive guitar, gently padded percussion and Touré’s lilting voice are paired with an infectious hook and Flem’s fiery lyrics, which touch upon his love of Mali, its food and its people, while praying for an end to war, racism, colonial oppression and more. The song manages to bring the African blues sound to the modern day — while also reminding the listener that hip hop has become the sound and voice of resistance everywhere.
“I went to Mali for the first time in 2003 with my friend Moctar, at his family home. We stayed for a month and a half and travelled from Bamako to Timbuktu,” the rising French emcee writes in a lengthy statement. “This trip inland, which is no longer possible today, changed my life. Abdulaye, Moctar’s cousin, introduced me to Vieux Farka Touré in 2009. The artistic connection was instantaneous and after a jam at his house, Vieux invited me to the prestigious Festival au Desert stage in Essakane, in the north of Mali.
Three years later, while I was recording the arrangements for my debut album Passeport, war in the Sahel broke out at the end of my stay, in January 2012. I was staying at Vieux Farka’s, in the family home in Bamako. It was important for Vieux Farka to show me his village and invite me on stage, this time for a festival in honour of his father. It should be remembered here that the late Ali Farka Touré was first a truck driver, then an internationally renowned artist and Grammy Award winner, but also the mayor of his village: Niafunké. The day after the concert, the intelligence and security services in Mali, who were protecting the area at the time, warned us of an imminent attack on the village. The terrorists had seen on television that a few Westerners were there. They interpreted this presence as a provocation to Sharia law, which was beginning to be imposed in the north of the country. Vieux Farka woke me up in my room and said: ‘You’re leaving right now!; I wanted to go back with him, but it was too dangerous. I was evacuated by the Malian army via the river. He came back as we had come, in a 4×4. The boat trip was magnificent, I had always dreamed of doing it, but the conditions were particular. Later, the rest of the Touré family also left the village to take refuge at Vieux’s house in Bamako.
In October 2015, my first album was released. There was no tour in France, but there was a one-off concert with Vieux Farka Touré at La Boule Noire in Paris. February 2017: the Institut Français (French Institute) and the CCF (French Cultural Center) in Bamako invited me for the start of the literary season, which ended with a concert by Vieux Farka Touré and myself. I went there with the pianist Mattias Mimoun and the harpist Katell Boisneau. We had a lot of fun playing again all together. I felt more than ready to prepare my second album.
In 2018, after the first night of recording with Ilan Sberro at the St-Ouen Auditorium, Vieux started listening to my lyrics and asked me: “Did you write a song for Mali?” I hadn’t, not intimately, not totally. Maybe I didn’t feel legitimate to do it. I love this country; I’ve got friends there who I consider to be members of my family. And I’m welcomed there as family. This country has given me a lot of love and has taught me things that can’t be explained. I was born, I grew up and I live in France, but I’ve been going to Mali regularly for 17 years now. Here’s my song Mali on a music by Vieux Farka Touré, accompanied by the superb voice of singer Amy D.
Mali Nébifé, Mali I love you. Flem.”
Directed by Dominique Milherou, the recently released video is split between footage of daily life in Mail from kids riding bikes and kicking around a soccer ball, to women dancing in the streets — to intimately shot footage of Flem, Amy D and Touré in the studio recording the song and performing the song. When the song hits sociopolitical commentary, we see footage of some of the Western leaders, who have helped to exploit and profit off the region’s people, resources and conflicts.