Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Rough Guide To West African Music




West African music is deliciously melodic and catchy, full of lilting guitars, rhythmic drums, often nasal high-pitched vocals all underpinned by a throbbing but deeply tuneful bass guitar. Saxophones and trumpets often interject the sound most effectively. The music also has an influence from Islamic Sufi-style music too, particularly in the acoustic based music of Mali. Music from Senegal and The Gambia tends to be more drum and guitar-driven, less stark, and fr more "danceable". Then there is Nigeria, with its infectious "high-life" guitar and saxophone music. The latter really gets treated as a genre in itself, however, and does not feature on this album. The thumb piano is often used to great effect too, particularly in Malian music, along with that special acoustic guitar sound (the kora) they have. Then, of course, there are the roots of the blues, which are deeply embedded in traditional West African music.

"Foliba" by Mali's Super Rail Band is a great way to kick off the compilation, although it is far more Senegalese or even Nigeria sounding than Malian, with its use of saxophones, pounding drums and throbbing bass lines. Toumani Diabate's "Djelika" is far more instantly recognisable as Malian, with a wonderful kora sound, together with a marvellously evocative thumb piano. It really is a most seductive sound. "Roucky" by Ali Farka TourĂ© is a gruffly sung, slow song over a bluesy acoustic guitar sound. If you want the roots of the blues, they can be found in material like this. It is as bluesy as you will find.

"Toro" by Moussa Poussy is a more contemporary number with modern synthesised drum backing but it still has a traditional vocal and some fetching backing vocals. It reminds a lot of Salif Keita's "Soro" album. "M'Bote" by Sona Diabate is a folky, female voice very ethnic and traditionally folky sounding number. It has some sumptuous guitar joining it at the end. "Djama Kaissoumou" by Oumou SangarĂ© is a gently insistent, rhythmic Sufi-influenced haunting number. It has a delicious bass line throughout. "I Ka Di Nye" by Bajorou is another acoustic, folky song, this time with a plaintive male vocal.  "205" by E.T. Mensah is completely different from anything else on the album so far, however, being a jaunty, brass-driven upbeat number that sounds almost South African in places. Another different one is the almost jazzy, laid-back blues of "Utru Horas" by Orchestra Baobab.

Basically, overall, this album is far more dominated by the "kora"-driven sounds of Mali than most other musical styles, the lively, danceable opener of The Super Rail Band's "Foliba" is not representative of what is to come. It is a very atmospheric, laid-back album of the highest musical quality.

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