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Leni Stern: Sabani

James Nadal By

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The West African country of Mali is positively identified as a primordial source of the stringed instrumentation of American popular music rooted in blues and jazz. Renowned guitarist Leni Stern first sought out Mali's rich musical culture years back, and now comes full circle with the release of Sabani—composed, performed, and recorded entirely on African soil.

Though Stern has been leaning towards a strong African influence since releasing Africa (Self Produced, 2007), she states that Sabani is the result of her total integration into a Malian musical society which she now considers family. Recorded in Salif Keita's studio in Bambako, Stern spent much time and effort learning about the n'goni, the African predecessor to the banjo.

In this acoustic trio setting, Stern regally blends her guitar work with local talents Haruna Samake on n'goni and Mamadou "Prince" Kone on percussion. The instrumental "The Cat Stole The Moon" and "An Saba" are prodigious examples of the trio having honed its skills down to the essentials. Stern played with Samake and Kone for two years prior to this recording; she has obviously entered into, and plays comfortably in, their musical realm.

The prominent role of Stern's vocalizing on four of the selections is the surprise on the record. "Still Bleeding" and "I Was Born" may fall under a world pop category. She takes this into a deeper direction with "Sorcerer," complete with an indigenous chorus. Stern claims that "Like A Thief" is her take on European gypsy music fused with African strings.

In honoring those who have mentored her through her African odyssey, Stern shares vocals with Ami Sacko on "Papillon." They are accompanied by the latter's brother, Buba Sacko, on n'goni. "Djanfa" likewise features the veteran Malian soukou master and singer, Zoumana Tareta.

Many musicians have ventured into Mali to tune into the legendary musical vibrations, but few if any have assimilated so far into the social fabric as Leni Stern. By her own admission, she has totally reinvented herself and her method of playing guitar to the point that it is a fresh creation. Sabani stands as evidence of an artist at the peak of musical evolution and revelation.

Track Listing: Still Bleeding; Sorcerer; The Cat Stole The Moon; Like A Thief; I Was Born; An Saba; Papillon; Djanfa.

Personnel: Leni Stern: electric and acoustic guitar, n’goni ba, tipple, voice; Haruna Samake: camela n’goni, karignan; Mamadou “Prince” Kone: calabash, talking drum, shakers; Ami Sacko: voice (7); Buba Sacko: n’goni (7); Zoumana Tareta: voice and sakou (8).

Title: Sabani | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Leni Stern Recordings

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