That mix is best encountered at La Refuge, tel: (223) 223 3799. It has no street address, so taxi drivers might have trouble finding it. So listen out for the chocolate-smooth, Cuban rumba drifting out from the rutted lanes, a stone's throw from the Rue N'Tomicorobougou. At La Refuge, in a courtyard lit by a lone fluorescent strip, middle-aged couples dance beneath a huge Sahelian moon. Neighborhood goats wander past. And a Malian band, replete with tom-tom, lilting flute and wheelchair-bound keyboardist, will likely be crooning in Portuguese about "Comandante Che Guevara."
"Music is important," says local veteran musician Amadou Bagayoko. "Every celebration is an opportunity to party." And what opportunities. La Refuge is just one gem in Bamako's brilliant music scene, which easily rivals that of Dakar, its more famous neighbor. If you're Bamako-bound, you'll find the beat here:
HOTEL WASULU: Oumou Sangare, Mali's feisty feminist diva, is the resident headliner at this famous venue, tel: (223) 228 7373. From the southern Wassoulou region, Sangare casts an electrifying spell over the audience with her ethereal vocals, which often lambaste men for their polygamous ways.
FOLYBLON: If Hotel Wasulu's not hopping, try the perennially popular Folyblon, tel: (223) 675 5933. Situated in the Hippodrome, Bamako's new trendy district, it lures a sharply dressed, mostly student crowd with bands like the Makossa ensemble Mouv' Africa. To hear percussive panache, drop by on Thursdays for the djembe sessions. Friday is griot night when a beer costs only 90˘.
LE HOGON: A fixture on the Bamako circuit for over a decade, Le Hogon, tel: (223) 223 0760, is managed by the amiable Moussa Yaffa, a DJ who mixes techno with the kora, or traditional harp. The club's best performers include Toumani Diabate, considered the world's greatest kora player, and the 22-piece Symmetric Orchestra, whose complex, swirling melodies are produced by the balaphon (a West African xylophone), djembe, kora and guitars.
DJEMBE: Rough-edged Djembe, tel: (223) 223 7698, may have been around longer than Le Hogon, if the '70s-style décor is anything to go by. Nonetheless, it's a reliable venue for pop groups as well as traditional ensembles.