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African Jazz

West Africa: Frikyiwa's Mix of Ancient and Modern

By Published: April 10, 2004

"Djigui," a deceptively simple cascading kora solo, opens the record with a contemplative introduction leading to the bouncing, trilling melodies that are characteristic of West Africa's largest formal musical tradition. Santo's touch is crisp and bright. The title of the record, which refers to the Manding language, also refers to the same culture from which this music is derived. Except for the aforementioned "Bakari," the rest of Manding-Ko proceeds through a series of eight paced pieces of roughly five minutes in length.

Griotte Hadja Kouyate's minute-long unaccompanied entrance on "Agne Tolona" heralds one of the strongest and most spirited voices in West African music today. She's from Guinea, and her outspoken, piercing delivery places spirit above all else. Chances are you won't understand the words, and the packaging won't help at all in that regard, but the music itself speaks volumes. A touch of the modern comes through on Santo's reverberant, echoing wah-treated kora playing on "Toukan," a bit out of place (especially with an almost Jamaican after-echo) but not far from the trance-like feel of the rest of the music.

(Note: upcoming releases are planned for both of these artists: Hadja Kouyate Et Les Guineens' Yilimalo ; Ali Boulo Santo and Manding-Ko's Komo Felle.)

Art highlights: Check out the drawing on the back side of Ali Boulo Santo's kora—the continent of Africa in the palm of a black hand. Multimedia: none.

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Nuits Sur Ecoute: Bougouni
FKW002 (2001)

Origin: Mali/France
Summary: Electronic ("ambient") treatments of night sounds and music

Lipitone, aka jazzer and producer Marc Chalosse, takes to the streets (and the backyards and beyond) with this assembled collection of voices, music, dancing, animal noises, and other sounds of the night. It's the first of two such releases in the Frikyiwa catalog, recorded in Bougouni, Mali in February of 2001. Galliano's art for the release consists of oddly illuminated faces and fabrics, processed to emphasize bright gold, silver, and blue colors throughout. When you lift out the disc at the bottom of the package, you see a portable tape recorder resting underneath: A statement of purpose, indeed.

The music which underpins all the night sounds on Bougouni comes from the strings and voices of local talent (including Frikyiwa leaders Ali Boulo Santo and N'Gou Bagayoko), as well as Lipitone's own organ on three tracks. It's relatively relaxed stuff, nothing too intense, all in tune with the atmospheric effects that pervade the record.

Lipitone's interpretation of night "ambience" mostly extends far beyond the so-called "ambient" textures of conventional electronica. He makes use of the raw material to build up forward textures which never feel top-heavy or lose track of their organic roots. The sound of cicadas, for example, is a regular counterpoint to more human noises. On "Les Somonos Part 1" he makes use of the splashing of fishermen's oars to propel the overall body forward (echoes in the voices which come down the road are paralleled with echoes in the splashes as well). More heavily processed music is present on "Part 2."

Art highlights: Gold, silver, blue and red. A portable tape recorder becomes visible when you lift out the CD, and a lonely candle on the other side. Multimedia: A fun interactive musical flash suite which you can get a taste of at .

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Siran (featuring N'Gou Bagayoko)
FKW006 (2002)

Origin: Mali
Summary: Spare, intense male vocals, n'goni, and guitar.

Siran was my first exposure to Frikyiwa and it remains a favorite. This release features the young Malian vocalist/n'goni player Filifin alongside Frikyiwa frequent flier N'Gou Bagayoko on guitar. Filifin's primary instrument is the kamele n'goni, a relatively low-pitched 7-stringed instrument with a muted attack and limited sustain. This is his first recording.

He uses those features to effect on "Kokouma," for example, where the n'goni becomes a percussion instrument and serves as an active lead, in contrast to Bagayoko's otherwise repetitive, trance-inducing guitar phrases. In other places, he makes use of harmonics to build strange, otherworldly timbres. It's hard for an outsider to know if this is a traditional style or not, but maybe that's the point.

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