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Mamani Keita & Marc Minelli: Electro-Bamako

AAJ Staff By

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Electro-Bamako lies at the intersection of three musical styles: traditional Malian vocals, electro-pop, and jazz (more or less in that order). That may sound like an impossible combination, but between the voice of Mamani Keita and producer Marc Minelli it turns out inspired and fresh.

Mamani Keita, formerly a backup singer to Malian vocal star Salif Keita, brings an exuberant touch to Electro-Bamako, forming the essential foundation around which the rest of this music is constructed. During production, Keita and Minelli bounced tapes back and forth in order to reach a proper synergy. The rest of the record is cut from samples, keyboard performance, and various electronic creations. Opening with a harmonized horn section (yes, that's a baritone sax in there) swinging gently along a reggae groove, Keita's voice is like honey. It stands in contrast to the relatively staccato drum hits, the pulsing throb of the saxophones, and spice-like conversational snippets. Taken as a whole, the sum accurately projects the spirit of the record. It's light, warm, clever, and pulls an unexpected swinging energy right out of thin air.

The shiny sweep of the piano introduction to "Mirri Ye" mirrors Keita's vocals, which reflect from all different angles. A busy, up-tempo snare-based rhythm manages to simultaneously recall blues-like foundations from Malian music and generate a swinging pulse. Relatively sparse overall, the piece takes maximum advantage of the raw elements from which it is drawn. Later adventures veer into textures closer to pop or electro, always structured around the chorus-verse format. But there's very little repetition among these pieces. Some are easier listening than others, and some go very light on the jazz element. Then again, that sounds an awful lot like Bill Evans on the intro to "Abdoulayi Djodo."

The closer aligns itself most closely with Malian tradition, using sounds from the (marimba-like) balafon and something resembling a (lute-like) n'goni. Its explicit respect for Keita's roots makes no apologies for the delicate manipulations which frame her words in a new light. It's a suitable ending for a syncretic experience which manages to bring cultures together without compromising their strengths.

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Track Listing: N'ka Willy; Abdoulayi Djodo; Mirri Ye; Macary; Laydou; Demisenoun; Nedjagn

Personnel: Mamani Keita: vocals; Marc Minelli: production.

Title: Electro-Bamako | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Palm Pictures


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