Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In review--Mali in shades of banjo blue

Leni Stern
Independent release

I sometimes wonder when the Malian musical star will fade out, but it just grows brighter each year.  With western musicians such as Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder, Corey Hart, Bonnie Raitt and Leni Stern collaborating with Malian musicians, not to mention the prominence of Malian musicians worldwide, the excitement just keeps growing. 

Guitarist-songwriter Leni Stern (German-born), has already lived a musically exciting life that would make any cultural creative proud.  She has collaborated with Peruvians, performed at the Festival of the Desert (Saharan Desert, Mali), and jammed with the stellar lights of Malian music.  And now, she’s released a blues album featuring the n’goni (grandfather of the banjo) performed by herself and Haruna Samake from Salif Keita’s band, with another Keita band member, Mamadou Kone brings percussion to the session.  The result is the haunting Sabani--Malian blues with a feminine twist.

I have a collection of Malian recordings and none of them sounds a like.  Stern’s recording represents a jam session in Salif Keita’s Mouffou Studio in Bamako, with Keita’s bandmates--pretty impressive.  Malian chanteuse Ami Sacko (voice), her husband Buba Sacko (n’goni), and Zoumana Tareta (voice and sokou-bowed instrument) also drop in for a musical visit.  Highlights for me are The Sorcerer (dan sogo) that tells a story, the instrumental The Cat That Stole the Moon that rollicks along with bluesy electric guitar conversing with the n’goni’s cadence, the chilling Like a Thief, and the Malian blues I Was Born (Ibe Keneya).  Take a listen to Ami Sacko’s solo. Papillon features poetry that reflects on the natural world, sung over bouncy n'goni and acoustic guitar.  Actually, the entire album begs for multiple lessons. 

It seems that Mali has planted its feet firmly on the world’s musical map, exploring roots of the distant past, while bringing its music into the contemporary stage and studio.  By now, everyone, including our grandmas, have heard the sounds emanating from the West African nation.  You think this alone would bring us world peace.

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