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Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko

Chris May By

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Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

Jama Ko

Out/Here

2013

Malian ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate and his band, Ngoni Ba's third album continues the increasingly outward-looking trajectory of its predecessors. The debut, the lovely Segu Blue (Out/Here, 2007), was unadorned roots music. Its follow-up, the more visceral I Speak Fula (Out/Here, 2010), wove amplification into what was still basically an acoustic sound and, on two tracks, featured Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali Farka Toure, on electric guitar. On Jama Ko—as with his performances as part of the travelling package show Africa Express—Kouyate has taken the process a step further, ramping up the universality of his music. Winningly, he has done so without diminishing its singularity.

On the new album, Kouyate and Ngoni Ba mostly play amplified ngonis, with Kouyate himself also using a wah-wah pedal and other sonic distortion devices to great effect. When Kouyate solos on the electric instrument, he sounds as much like guitarist Muddy Waters on his 1968 psychedelic-Chicago blues outing, Electric Mud (Cadet), as he does a ngoni player from West Africa. But then, as Ali Farka Toure's recordings demonstrated long ago, identifying where West African desert blues stops and American Delta blues begins would be labor worthy of Hercules.

The album was recorded in Bamako, Mali in March 2012, when the north of the country was becoming infested by Islamists intent on destroying the region's traditional culture. Since then, if you follow the news, you will know that the situation has become worse.

Jama Ko (which means a big gathering of people) is Kouyate's defiant response. "There are over 90% Muslims in Mali," he says, "but our form of Islam here has nothing to do with a radical form of Sharia: that is not our culture. We have been singing praise songs for the Prophet for hundreds of years. If the Islamists stop people music making they will rip the heart out of Mali."

Peace and plurality will, hopefully, return to Mali soon. This disc, certainly, will endure. Jama Ko is African culture at its best.

Tracks: Jama Ko; Sinaly; Dankou; Ne Me Fatigue Pas; Kele Magni; Madou; Nensogni; Mali Koori; Wagadou; Djadje; Segu Jajiri; Poye 2; Moustafa.

Personnel: Bassekou Kouyate: solo ngoni; Amy Sacko: vocals; Abou Sissoko: ngoni medium; Moustafa Kouyate: ngoni ba; Mamadou Kouyate: ngoni bass; Moctar Kouyate: calabash; Mahamadou Tounkara: yabara, karingnan, tama.

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