Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Music from Mali

I own a decent sampling of musics from throughout Africa, from traditional to more contemporary styles, but if I had to say which nation's/region's music I preferred most, I would have to say Mali's. Of late, I've found myself newly appreciative of this place's music. There's a delicacy to this music, even that of Issa Bagayogo's meldings of traditional instruments and song structures with club-ready editing and dubbing: the music is so rhythmically intricate that it never becomes beat-heavy, even when a song gets a steady thump going. Granted, we here in the U.S. are hearing the best of the best, but I have yet to hear a poor Malian singer. I also like how its songs clearly have structures to them, yet they just-as-clearly aren't Western. They have a flowing quality to them. But this music is also accessible to American ears; Ali Farka Touré, perhaps Mali's best-known guitarist, is often called a blues guitarist, but his blues is Malian, not Mississippian. I often take this music with me when I head out on the road: there's an expansiveness to it; it finds a groove and won't let go, but it never gets dull, either.

Below the fold, some places to go if you're curious.

My online friend Fearful Syzygy is responsible in part for this little post. He recently forwarded me a link to an old WNYC New Sounds show called "Mali Cool" (here, by the way, is another, more recent show). As he promised, I was entranced by what I heard, so much so that I printed off the playlist and, earlier today, went off to the nearby record emporium to see if I could find any of this wonderful music. No luck there (I'll try again elsewhere tomorrow), but I did find two albums that it would be difficult to imagine someone would not like.

Putumayo's sampler Mali is a great selection of styles and artists. There simply isn't a miss in the bunch. The best-known artists on this compilation are the contemporary artists, Habib Koité and Babayogo, but older artists such as Idrissa Soumaoro, Kélétigui Diabaté, and Boubacar Traoré are also well represented.

Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, In the Heart of the Moon. Touré died from bone cancer in March of this year, which adds poignancy to this extraordinary album--as if it needed any further enhancement. Touré's guitar duets with Diabaté's kora (the Malian harp). These are unrehearsed, first-take recordings made by two men separated by a generation and the very different musical traditions of northern and southern Mali who, according to the liner notes, had played together a total of 3 hours over the previous 15 years. The songs themselves could not be simpler: two chords over which the players take turns soloing. It can begin to sound a bit same-y, but you won't care, it's such beautiful playing.

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