Saturday, May 18, 2013

In review--Peace for Mali

Vieux Farka Toure
Mon Pays 
Six Degrees Records 

Mali faces more trouble with Islamic fundamentalists warring against Tuareg nomads in the north part of the country and music was banned.  Anyone who enjoys Malian music has most likely heard of this sad news, yet the music keeps coming, showing us a face of hope, defiance and peace, at least in the hearts of the Malian people.

Vieux Farka Toure, the son of the late Malian guitar legend, Ali Farka Toure records his best album thus far, Mon Pays which speaks of anguish for his fellow Malians and also possesses a healing force not found anywhere but in music.  Mostly an acoustic album with blues guitar, the traditional kora (West African harp), ngoni, and calabashes, you will also hear piano on the final track Ay Bakoy, played by Israeli Idan Raichel, a friend and musical collaborator of Vieux.

These aren’t the only instruments you will hear on this tapestry of African, Middle Eastern and European instruments and the first track, Diack So sounds like Tuareg-style blues with Djodjo on lead vocals, but is in fact a folksong from northern Mali and a tribute to a late musician friend of the family.  While the production can only be called splendid and musicianship heartfelt, Mon Pays is easily the most powerful album to come along in a long time.  I’m reminded of American jazz trumpeter Terrance Blanchard’s post-Katrina recording Requiem for Katrina (A Tale of God’s Will) where emotions fuel musicians’ best performances by taking them to the edge.

I’m not one to promote suffering for art, however, often times when life circumstances push us to the edge, we mature artistically.  I can’t imagine that anyone listening to this CD won’t feel pangs of sympathy or empathize with the grief of the musicians.  And yet, and yet, on the surface, if you don’t understand the lyrics, some of these songs sound celebratory or uplifting, such as Safare with its driving beat and sparkling guitar.  Only on the closing track, Ay Bakoy does the gravity of Mali’s situation sink in.

Personally, I believe that Mon Pays is among the best recordings for 2013 thus far.  With its tight production, beautifully sounding instruments, and vocals raw with deep emotions, I ask you not only to pay tribute to Mali and its stellar musicians by purchasing Mon Pays (and other Malian recordings), but to send a prayer out for peace in Mali, knowing also that these dire circumstances unite a people who learn just how deeply they love their homeland.  Perhaps, we love Mali too.

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