Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In review--Kings of the G'Noni

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
Speak Fula
Next Ambiance/Subpop

I love griot music of Mali—the kora, n’goni (West African banjo), calabashes, and soaring vocals. You might have already read numerous reviews on The Whole Music Experience featuring Malian music and no doubt, you’ll read more in the future.

I was listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered” one evening and heard a segment on the n’goni player and rising music star, Bassekou Kouyate. I stopped whatever I was doing at the time, sat down and listened to the stunning music rising from my portable stereo. The piece that I heard possessed ambient qualities with Malian female vocals surfing over the top of jagged rhythms and traditional instruments. The vocalist, Amy Sacko that captured my attention is Kouyate's wife.

But she’s only one of many stars on this album which also features the son of Ali Farka Toure (Vieux Farka Toure), a singer with a golden throat, Kasse Mady Diabate, kora master Toumani Diabate, and other fabulous Malian players. The musicians strove to produce an album that would appeal to the younger crowd, but it appeals to me also with its masterful performances, deep grooves and griot signature. The sound is modern without programming and drum machines jamming up the works. A band of traditional Malian musicians support powerful melodic lines that also provide life lessons to listeners.   The overall sound bluesy, laidback though with a lot of rapid solos performed on the n'goni and kora.

Torin Torin with its shimmering kora conversing with the n’gonis, percussion and sensual vocals reflects on the Bamada Empire founder. I’m reminded of the Taj Mahal album, Kulanjan which Toumani Diabate and Bassekou Kouyate appeared, in a much earlier incarnation. But for Kulanjan fans, Speak Fula promises to hit the spot. The following track, Bambugu Blues also fits into the Kulanjan realm with its 5-note Malian blues, possibly the ancestor of American blues; possibly the ancestor of jazz and rock and roll. Andra Kouyate’s gruff vocals contribute a hypnotic (almost psychedelic quality). Certainly when in combination of the song’s slow groove, the music offers a chill out respite.

I would call Speak Fula a breakout album, but Bassekou Kouyate has already made an international name for himself. I feel that Speak Fula will attract a younger audience (the bluesy Malian groove is much healthier for youth than the drum & bass they plug into their ears), and stalwarts of Malian music. With this solid lineup, high level of performance, and accessible sound, I feel we’ll be hearing about this Malian recording years from now.

Subpop and Out There

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