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Beautifully balanced, arranged and executed. I saw her on her first US tour and thought she was fabulous. But things would appear in Europe or on cassette in Mali we would hear about but never hear. I assumed she had retired or was burned out touring when World Circuit shuffled her cassettes and CDs and came up with a collection worthy to stand as her lasting monument.
But I was wrong: she is back with more. Not more of the same: more Joy, which is the translation of the title. No, it can't be him. He plays electric guitar, not talking drum. The key invitee is producer Cheick Tidiane Seck who plays Hammond organ on two tracks and arranged half of it. But wait! You also get Djelimady Tounkara on guitar on three tracks, Neba Solo on balafon on three others, Tony Allen on one track. Everybody's here, the Mamadous and the Papapdous, and then some: probably even some others you have heard of if you memorize liner notes.
Great percussion, great variety, great sound mix. This is solid. There ain't a slack track on the front or the back. A must hear. Mali has more great guitarists than any other African country unless you value Togo's Barthelemy Attiso as worth others. I lauded Vieux on his debut for stepping out of his father's shadow, but now he is back in the shade.
In The Hollow Men , T. Eliot's wrote, "Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow. So he has retrenched and gives us a solid album, but one that sounds like his father's work. It reminds me of Africando or the Buena Vista Socialists: when one dies you stick another one in his place to perpetuate the brand.
I have been thinking about the influence of Western electric guitar on Malian and Senegalese bands and the 70s sound definitely owes a lot to the Englishmen Green, Beck, Page, Clapton, etc, but also to Santana and, it finally dawned on me, "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic. There's skirling blues riffs to spare here and lashings of power manifest on the trap drums. Friends always accuse me of stopping liking things when they become popular; that's not true -- I stop liking things when they become formulaic and predictable.
So fans of Ali Farka will be pleased. The exceptions are good: "Diaraby Magni" uses a reggae beat with dub effects, like echo and decay on the drums, but the lead guitar stays the same. This album is now available as a download from Akwaaba music. Mamou moved to Bamako, the capital, and became a backup singer for the more famous woman, but now she has followed Issa Bagayogo in adding deft techno touches, a hint of drum programming and some synthesizer, without sacrificing her traditional sound.
Melodic arrangements break out into talking drum and electric guitar jams. There is organ, a full female chorus, lots of energy. The last track, "Mali Mousso," has a whiny insistent guitar lead that for a moment was going to go into reggaeton! It is a great rave-up ending to this fine disc. But the newest take on Mali in the ongoing African Pearls series is more than a repackaging job.
I examined the playlist before laying down mega moolah on it, and I was surprised to find I only have a third of the tracks. Remember when CDs first appeared in ? The marketers said they were going to be cheaper than LPs but they were immediately more expensive. They don't last as long and no one ever properly addressed the reduced scale of the package to make the information accessible.
Perhaps the era of the CD is already over, to be replaced by virtual music. In future, no two records will be the same. From this set, I would have preferred to download the tracks I wanted and burn a disc to avoid the overlap with other CDs in my Mali shelf. The first track "Duga" by Orchestre Regional de Kayes is grandiose and declamatory: the singer is almost admonishing you, over a restrained riff, until the electric guitar comes sliding in from the thinnest of thin blue pre-dusk twilight heavens, plaintively ordering the drums.
Then the singer commands the sax to appear, very magisterially. This selection comes from a Barenreiter release as does "Boro" by Orchestre Regional de Mopti, which is B4 here , and reminds me again how I wish someone would do a CD box set of those 15 Barenreiter albums that tell the story of the origin of these youth bands.
I have a handful of them on vinyl, but I am missing some I am sure Barenreiter has outtakes and other goodies, if their vaults are at all organized , and as a compulsive collector and completist I want it all. Rail Band fans will be glad to hear two obscure 45s by them from , "Tamadiara" and "Nanthan. Among new bands, there is Bida de la Capitale I don't think it was fronted by Zim Bida, but who knows? The sax is a bit warbly, due to the poor recording.
But the compensations include a smoking Ambassadeurs single from "M'bouram-mousso. As the fractured-english liner notes explain: "The Ambassadeurs was founded in under the aegis of police officer Tiekoro Bagayogo who wanted his share of nightlife excitation. Someone even said she had gone pop. This is a real problem for successful artists from Francophone Africa, because their European destination is Paris or Bruxelles and they are only going to get worse once they subject themselves to the musical culture of their adopted homelands.
Salif Keita and Kante Manfila are shining examples of the wretched depths African artists can plumb once they swap their homespun for designer threads. But Rokia already had class and, as her string of great albums attests, she is a gifted songwriter. She plays to her strengths on this new outing, some of the sound is reassuringly familiar, as if she knows the grooves that work, so "Tounka" sounds a lot like her early work.
There's a bluesy Ali Farka riff to the opening song "Dounia," but then some atmospheric reverb and her familiar aetherial harmonies come to the fore. Her voice is thin but miked on top of the sound. Harp duels with ngoni on "Konandi," another outstanding example of her creative use of traditional African instruments with Western ones.
There are two guitars, one in key and one looking for the key: that's a bad start, then the ngoni player is embroidering with some more distracting pluckings. Rokia sings in French-tinged English which sounds like she heard Blossom Dearie's version of the song.
I suppose it's important for foreign artists to appeal to the monoglot world of English-language listeners; it shows where they would like to be considered in the tradition. If you look at the history of "The Man I Love," it was an up-tempo foxtrot in its first incarnation and it was not till Billie Holliday, probably, that it was slowed down to a dirge, but now everyone does it with regret rather than anticipation.
The Duchess is more forgiving, she likes the Malian aspect and thinks Gershwin would have dug it too, after all he also went to Paris. But the last track has steel-pan effect on a synth which also seems inappropriate to Rokia's voice. Kora is like classical guitar: there are musicians like Andres Segovia who have their devotees, whereas others prefer John Williams, Manitas de Plata or Julian Bream.
It's a matter of taste, but the repertoire doesn't vary much. And unless you are a fanatic you don't really need a lot of kora records, the way you absolutely need a lot of Congolese rumba records, say. Mamadou Diabate grew up in a Mande griot family his father Djelimory was one of the founders of the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali and has been playing the stringed instrument all his life. When he was 22, Mamadou moved to the USA after defecting from a successful Instrumental Ensemble tour and became more exposed to jazz, blues and pop, collaborating with Randy Weston, Taj Mahal, and Angelique Kidjo, among others.
For his fourth album, his second solo, he has gone back to the traditional repertoire. Mamadou attacks the strings with passion and his fingers fly. But you just have to hear this album to realize he a brilliant creative artist. And despite his move to North Carolina there is no fusion or borrowing in this set. It's all recorded in one take, without overdubbing, the liner assures us, because otherwise we wouldn't believe it, so sweeping is the flood of scales, the torrent of fluid riffs.
He brought Malian traditional music into the modern era with a deft touch of electronica. Yves Wernert is back at the controls but the success of the sound is uniquely Issa. The rhythmic loops are based on his kamale ngoni; what makes it memorable is his brusque half-spoken delivery in a language few people speak. If you thought he could not improve on his solid catalogue of sounds, think again: he now adds jazz horns and organ, reminding me of Cheikh Tidiane Seck and the Mandinkas' collaboration with Hank Jones, a high mark in the history of cross-cultural fusion.
I got an advance copy so I can't tell you who the horn players are. He has also played with Issa from the start. The production of this album differs from Issa's previous three efforts. First, no studio was involved. Issa recorded his tracks either outside Wernert's Bamako house or in the kitchen, not in the studio. Ba Diallo, flautist with the National Ensemble of Mali, added flute, and the great djembe player Adama Diarra contributed his licks to keep it real.
Then, instead of consulting with Issa on the overdubs, Wernert flew back to his home in Nancy, France, where Gael Le Billan contributed guitar, bass, keyboard and accordion, again in a casual atmosphere without a formal studio. There are sympathetic vibes at work here and of course trust, as both producer and star know what they are aiming for. The result is sublime.
As testament to the power of this music, although I am a zillion miles, geographically, from Mali, I have seen half of these artists on tour in California. There's a bump in the road early on with a live cut from Mamadou and Mariam, who are blind so they cannot see how white they've become. But then the genuine techno beat of Issa Bagayogo wipes away the memory of their lame sampled police sirens, and his ngoni segues into that on the opening of Oumou Sangare and then the njarka introduces Afel Bocoum and we are sailing down the Niger, or wherever our fancy takes us on a hot summer afternoon.
There's a brief pause and we are swept away in the ripples of one of my all-time favourite Malian songs, "Kanan Neni," by Rokia Traore, the opening track of her magisterial Wanita album. The very heart of the matter. The familiar cathedral-like chimes of Ali Farka sweep down from his posthumous perch gracing his son's debut.
Only one guitarist can top that: Djelimady Tounkara who sweeps in with panache followed by the startling voice of Kandia Kouyate from her Stern's album Biriko. Djelimady must be double-tracked on here, or have a sympathetic accompanist, his finger-picking is astounding in its glittering brightness. The sequencing by Larisa Lassman is great: hats off to her!
For variety we hearken back to the jazz-funk of Les Ambassadeurs featuring Salif Keita. A bunch is stuff is crammed in at the end: the great Boubacar Traore on guitar; festival-darlings Tinariwen with an off-kilter droning piece; and then a swinging take on Gershwin's "Summertime" credited to "Traditional"!! Very classy, and a lovely capper to this superb set. The plus side is there's no mud, sunburn, queues for toilets, idiots yelling into cellphones, etc.
The minus side is no matter how good the live album is you don't get the full effect of being there in the moment when it's great you forget all those aforementioned problems. Last year the festival produced the fabulous Malouma album which came out earlier this year. But I was disappointed when this turned out to be a sampler drawn from the studio albums of the participants.
I have all this. It's too bad: I suppose they figured it would be better to have a product to sell to the fans at the event, rather than go to the trouble of licensing everything and doing a live album. You can't help be sorry this is not a live album. Rokia Traore is still the best live act I have seen from Africa in the last decade, but she has not done a live album, and her studio albums are very inconsistent.
There's no doubt Malian music endures. They are all on here, and they have all been reviewed on this website. Yes, it's a great album, lots of stuff you know and probably have, largely drawn from Marabi's own catalogue. So give us the live album, Marabi! They may have a novelty appeal like the Lennon or Marley kids or even a hit Nancy Sinatra but for the most part we think, How sad, and their dad was so talented.
Vieux Farka Toure is hamstrung by a name which suggests he is the elder here, but you get an an immediate sense that this is different. His album starts confidently in mid-stride and you know here is a serious contender for his late father's still-warm mantle.
Though it is his debut album, there is a relaxed sense of accomplishment: the arrangements are full, the sidemen some of whom backed his dad well chosen, and there's the bittersweet element as Ali Farka makes a guest appearance as his swansong. Ali Farka, in fact, didn't want his son to be a musician, knowing full well the years of struggle and hardship that entails.
This is traditional Malian music, mess less rooted in delta blues as his father's was with njarka spike fiddle and calabash percussion. It's a mood more than a tune and drifts off aethereally to make way for a reggae groove that is unoriginal yet accomplished. I've always been intrigued that African reggae seems stuck on Peter Tosh, not only as opposed to Marley, but as opposed to the musical evolution of reggae in the last two decades.
But there's so much more to hear. Music embodied by the image of a lone woman singing and plucking away at an ancient lute; an ethereal beauty with tumbling dark hair and a luminous, otherworldly voice. A woman not unlike Sevara Nazarkhan — if she was around a few hundred years ago, that is. Armed with a healthy respect for tradition and a penchant for sonic experimentation, Sevara is doing things her way.
Lisa Jen Brown is the lead singer in Welsh band 9Bach. Building on a deepened, almost ambient sound picture, the songs take you into the landscape and the emotions that it evokes. The answer is Welsh is my first language… my creative brain and ideas swim in the small streams that run into the crystal clear lakes— LLyn Idwal, Llyn Ogwen, the Ogwen Valley. Jane Harbour is a composer and violinist, based in Bristol, England, and a member of Spiro , which she formed in She was classically trained in the Suzuki method and studied with Shinichi Suzuki in Japan, and became inspired by Bach, Bartok, Britten and Stravinsky.
Her composition later became influenced by electronica, American minimalism and systems music, blending melodies of classical weight with driving rhythmic riffs of unusual spiky beauty, deep layers of interplay between the instruments and a dynamic use of systems, aiming to produce moving, exciting and new music. The journey from Lhasa in Tibet over the high Himalayas to Dharamsala in India has got to be one the most testing and physically gruelling exploits that anyone can undertake and yet hundreds of Tibetans do just that each year in search of freedom.
Yungchen Lhamo walked this road to exile as a teenager back in The diminutive and yet visually arresting Yungchen has a voice of astounding clarity and purity. Her songs are intimate tales of love for her homeland and her people and her story is an emblem of courage, perseverance, devotion and musical genius.
Gifted: Women of the World. Various Artists. Buy now at the Real World store. Nneka Lucia Egbuna is an award-winning Nigerian singer based in Germany. She is deeply influenced by her roots and the political and social states of her home country are often prevalent in her music and live performances. Songwriters have often travelled far and wide in search of inspiration. But Pina opted for a dramatic change of scenery. Armed with just her guitar and a few songs —and accompanied by her then-husband and their baby daughter— Pina moved from the Austrian capital to pastoral West Cork, in Ireland.
A ball that had been standing still for an eternity suddenly began moving, and Pina perked the interest of Real World Records. However, by the time she was making her debut record, Quick Look , Pina was facing up to the aftermath of a painful divorce, a separation that she went on to examine in heartbreaking detail on the album. She has established an international reputation as a highly original composer, winning her numerous awards and nominations including a Golden Globe, an Olivier and two British Composer Awards.
The album will, no doubt, be the source of many an epiphany. You could say that it has a spiritual, even magical, quality, as befits one who is constantly changing artistic shape —and whose surname is the Celtic word for fairy.
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