Tag Archives: Mali

Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa (2013)

Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa (2013)

Rokia Traoré is a Malian guitarist and singer/songwriter. Beautiful Africa is a beautiful folk-pop album, sung mostly in her native Bamana language, though there is also French (Melancolie; Beautiful Africa).

The album opener, Lalla, gives a good indication of the entire album, a simple but effective beat is joined in quick succession by an acoustic guitar and ngoni (a Malian instrument, a kind of lute), backing vocals and Traoré’s beautiful voice, wonderfully warm full, with an oh-so-slight gravel quality, but mostly smooth. The track, as most of the album, is in a celebratory mood, upbeat and joyousA track like Ka Moun Ke introduces a pretty sweet bassline to the mix driving the track forward, as also in Melancolie.

In contrast to much of the album, N’teri is a beautiful slow introspective track, with a sombre, slow beat, and subtle ngoni  melody, the music taking a backseat to Traoré’s beatifully sorrowful voice. Without knowledge of the language, I couldn’t tell you the context, but it feels like a griot tribute to the recently deceased.

A lovely album, a beautiful voice and a treat to listen to.

Favourite tracks: N’Teri, Kouma, Ka Moun Ke

Spotify link: Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa
Sneak peak: 

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Ballaké Sissoko – At Peace (2013)

Ballaké Sissoko - At Peace (2013)

While I was listening to this album, I was trying to place the main instrument; at times sounding like a harp and again like a guitar, or maybe some kind of lute. Having never come across Sissoko before, I was interested to read that he plays an instrument called the kora, which is a Western African harp-like instrument.

Sissako himself is from Mali, and is a master of this instrument. This album is at a fairly relaxed pace; harmonic support is given from what sounds like cello and marimba, though mostly subtle, with a fair bit of pedal point, drone and not much chordal variation, leaving Sissako the freedom to explore the musical space. His playing is beautiful and melodic; and at times virtuosic blistering fast, sounding more like Flamenco than anything.

In all, this is a very evocatively peaceful album; so powerful is the imagery here that I challenge you to listen to Boubalaka and not envisage a mountain stream, caressing the rock, tumbling off precipices, crashing down and flowing through the hills. Or Asa Branca which has an almost soundtrack feel, evoking a journey onward to the next adventure.

Favourite tracks: Boubalaka, Kalata Diata, Asa Branca

Spotify link: Ballaké Sissoko – At Peace
Sneak peak: 

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Jama Ko (2013)

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba - Jama Ko (2013)

Sometimes you come to albums with no knowledge about them and with no preconceivied notions. That is how I approached Jama Ko.

I’m almost tempted to not tell you too much about Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, because it could possibly spoil the fun I had listening to this album trying to place just where this music comes from. I went on a global trip in my mind trying to narrow down what country this could have hailed from.

First, and most prominent on the album, is the stringed instrument that is so playfully plucked and strummed throughout. At times it sounds like a guitar, sometimes a ukulele and often a middle-eastern instrument like the dutar or rubab, and occasionally like a Greek laoutu. Next, the choral harmony of the backing vocals sounds African, while the inflections in the lead vocals sound Persian or Indian. Finally, the style is mostly charming upbeat Afrobeat-style Jazz (mostly driven by the unnamed stringed instrument), some Calyspo-esque beats, and finally Blues, especially on track Poye 2 (which is sang in French, reinforcing the African theme).

Well, Poye 2 gives it all away in the end:
Blues pour le Mali, pour le Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Gambie, Guinea Bisau, oh Mali, oh Mali

Bassekou Kouyate and his band Ngoni Ba hail from Mali, which is, after all, the other home of the blues. The aforementioned stringed instrument is the Malian ngoni, a kind of lute, not dissimilar to the Afghan dutar and rubab, and Bassekou Kouyate and his two sons are masterful players. His wife completes the line up on vocals.

The whole album is a groovy fusion gem, loose and playful, immediately accessible as well as rewarding on further listens. Well worth it.

Favourite tracks: Sinaly, Segu Jajiri, Mali Koori

Spotify link: Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni ba – Jama ko
Sneak peak: