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West Africa: Frikyiwa's Mix of Ancient and Modern

AAJ Staff By

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Proponents of the theory that American blues has roots in Mali will find compelling evidence here. This is without question the finest of the Frikyiwa releases reviewed in this article.

Art highlights: Beautiful flowing robes on Bagayoko and the singers; odd camouflage on Filifin. Multimedia: an interactive three-dimensional matrix of 27 short music/dance videos. Top-notch design by Manuel Tau and Patrick Doan.

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Louis 2000
Nuits Sur Écoute: Bignona
FKW010 (2003)

Origin: Senegal
Summary: Electronic ("ambient") treatments of night sounds and music

Bignona is the second installment of Frikyiwa's Nuits sur Écoute series, and it differs from the first ( Bougouni ) in several respects, but it retains the same village-centric night sounds (eg. animals, kids, clapping and dancing). Those elements are what keep this otherwise thoroughly modern production grounded.

Louis 2000 is a thirty-something Frenchman with an early interest in rock that subsequently expanded to include studio production and acoustic composition. Over the course of ten days of recording in the Diolla ethnic region of Casamance (Southern Senegal), he absorbed sounds from morning to night, man-made and natural alike. The music on Bignona often does not reflect the acoustic matching of Bougouni : instead, it's added after the fact in order to enhance certain textural or percussive aspects of the sound sources proper.

I have the feeling from listening to this record that I don't have the capacity to stretch out enough to properly enjoy it. This is an extended suite, full of voices, echoes and unusual juxtapositions, which flows naturally but very gradually from one place to the next. It works fine as background music (certainly nothing terribly abrupt or grabbing), but when you really tune into what's going on, it takes a lot of attention to fully absorb the music. There's just a whole lot going on over the full course of the record.

Art highlights: Fiery blurs of dance and celebration. Multimedia: a series of nine nine-panel interactive videos where you can move the panels collectively but never quite align them. Conspicuously analogous to the nine-panel artwork/packaging that accompanies the album. Deep.

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Diefadima Kanté
Frankonodou
FKW011 (2003)

Origin: Guinea
Summary: Traditional female vocals with guitar duo accompaniment

Diefadima Kanté is about sixty, and Frankonodou reflects that maturity in several aspects, though it's her first time in the studio. Her voice tends to be raw-edged, with the capacity to shift from amble to rush (and not at all randomly), but still carrying the characteristic intensity of vocal music from her home in Guinea. Her words (we are told) reflect ancient griot tradition. She sings with guitar accompaniment (Kaba and Cabiné Kanté play mostly acoustic and electric guitar, though it's not clear who plays which), in addition to balafon (a xylophone-like instrument) on three tracks.

Listeners who enjoyed Hadja Kouyaté's duo record with Ali Boulo Santo (reviewed above) will find it interesting to learn that Kouyaté is Diefadima Kanté's daughter. Their styles are actually quite different, as revealed particularly well on the one track where they sing together. On "Diarabi" ("My Love") Kanté leads in with a particularly ragged introduction that segues quite naturally into lyrical delivery atop two acoustic guitars. Her daughter sounds brighter, smoother, and lower on the intensity scale.

On the forty-second track "Tissidiba" Kanté sings alone, accompanying herself on the metal cylinder-like percussion instrument known as the carignan. This is the rawest glimpse you will find, and it's an abrupt contrast to the traditional "Nanibali" which follows—quite clearly and unmistakably part of the Manding lineage which extends back hundreds of years to the Ancient Empire of Mali. Mory Diabaté's balafon rises to the forefront on the next tune, brightly rippling above rising and falling guitar accompaniment that occasionally falls into riff mode.

Unfortunately the sound quality on this record is not up to the standards of the rest, which makes the guitar and voice a little noisy and bright. Otherwise this is a refreshingly roots-oriented record with just the right balance of quiet, spark and burn.

Art highlights: Some of the most beautiful floral wallpaper on the planet. Multimedia: mouse over a series of image slices to view a photo montage with sound. More subtle than exciting.

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Various Artists
Frikyiwa: La Musique des Maquis: Bon Coin
FKW012 (2003)

Origin: West Africa
Summary: Sampler including new and previously released material

This sampler aims at attracting new listeners to the label, presenting as it does seven major artists from the label on both new and old material. It's the best place to start if you're not sure which of the releases above are most appropriate. It overlaps only partially with earlier discs, so it's also by no means irrelevant with respect to the rest of the Frikyiwa catalog.

Since these artists have all been reviewed above, I'll only touch on a couple high points. The repetitive, trance-inducing guitar and stark, piercing female vocals of N'Gou Bagayoko's "Tolon Wilikan" are an odd combination, but it works, especially in light of the stretched-out electronic effects that fill out some of the open space and add texture elsewhere. Filifin's relatively brief "Miri Magni" has a clear call-and-response structure that virtually begs guitar and n'goni alike to converse freely. He milks all sorts of interesting buzzing, scratching, muted, and overtone-rich timbres out of his instrument.

Hands-down the best introduction to the musicians on the label.

Art highlights: A whole heap of colorful flip-flop sandals, with some info translated very roughly into English. Multimedia: An informative introduction to musicians featured on the label.

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Various Artists
Frikyiwa Presents: Electronic Experiences in African Music
FKW016 (2003)

Origin: West Africa/Europe/Beyond
Summary: Electronic remixes of West African source material; dance-oriented

In contrast to the open, ambient textures of the Bougouni and Bignona releases described above, Electronic Experiments is decidedly based on beats—but almost exclusively the electronic kind, not what you get with hand or stick on percussion. This is a remix record, and as such it features a collection of artists who will find appeal with different tastes.

Most of these tunes are dance music of one kind or another, though some stray closer to conventional ideas of dance; some sample huge chunks of the music being remixed, while others prefer bits and pieces. The two freshest tracks are label head Frédéric Galliano's remix of N'gou Bagayoko and Tokyo Black Star's remix of Hadja Kouyaté and Ali Boulo Santo. (Those same two choices of source material make up five of nine tracks.)

Tokyo Black Star places chant-like phrases within a meshwork of relatively crisp beats that insistently imply the clave, Latinizing Kouyaté's voice in an eerie manner that seems odd but yet natural at the same time. The last part is key. Bite-sized chunks, plunked down both in line and askew with respect to bar lines, flow forward naturally. Not surprisingly, Galliano's effort also works well. He takes it straight to the dance floor, and while the four-to-the-floor beats can be at times repetitive, such is the nature of such a beast. The reworking of the vocals are the secret, aligned so that they form a sort of extended poetry.

Luciano's remix of Kouyaté and Santo is full of eerie blinks and scrapes, dots and flicks. It's so different from the rest that it stands out starkly in contrast. The machine-like nature of its framework outright rejects the analog quality that the source material brings to the project.

Frikyiwa Presents brings together a fairly wide variety of electronic artists, with reviving approaches in most cases. It's an interesting complement to the two additional sets of Frikyiwa remixes available on Six Degrees ( Collection 1 and Collection 2 ), which draw from artists like Pole and Catalyst, but it's just plain better.

Art highlights: Red and purple textile textures overlaid with Frikyiwa's leafy plant-in-pot logo. Multimedia: None.

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Track and Personnel Listings

FKW001: Manding-Ko

Personnel: Hadja Kouyaté: lead vocal (2-5,8-9), chorus (5-6,8-9), claps (6). Ali Boulo Santo: lead vocal (3,5-6), kora (all), wah-wah effect (2,5,8). Plus Manfila Kanté: electric guitar (6) and eight other guests (4,5,6,8,9). Recorded in Dakar, Senegal on March 1-2, 2000.

Tracks: 1. Djigui 2. Agné Tolona 3. Si Tu M'Accompagnes 4. Barra 5. Sembéré 6. Bakari 7. Allah Laké 8. Toukan 9. Diefadima

FKW002: Nuits Sur Ecoute: Bougouni

Personnel: Lipitone: samples, organ, production. With N'Gou Bagayoko, Poupé, Diefadima Kanté, Ali Boulo Santo, and others. Recorded in Bougouni, Mali, February 2001.

Tracks: 1. Taama 2. Restaurant "Bon Coin" 3. Bougouni Sou 4. Les Somonos Part 1 5. Les Somonos Part 2 6. Miri 7. Diarabi 8. Foly 9. Fadjiri Seli

FKW006: Siran

Personnel: Filifin: voice, kamele n'goni, carignan; N'Gou Bagayoko: guitar. Recorded in Bougouni, Mali in January, 2002.

Tracks: 1. Foly 2. Siran 3. Kokouma 4. Sondila 5. Yiri 6. Wati 7. Dia

FKW007: Kulu

Personnel: N'Gou Bagayoko: guitar, ka, carignan. With Nahawa Doumbia: vocal (3,9), Ramatta Doussou: vocal (5,8), Mai Sanogo: vocal (4), Maimouna Keita: water's calabash (4), Fanta Koné: concon barani (2,6), Filifin: kamele n'goni (4,7). Recorded in Bougouni, Mali in January, 2002.

Tracks: 1. Cle 2. Yaga 3. Bakari Bamba 4. Sogola Djigui 5. Kulu 6. Niessoma 7. Tielassigui 8. Yala 9. Dogotorow 10. Maman

FKW010: Nuits Sur Écoute: Bignona

Personnel: Louis 2000: soundscape recording, electronic, arrangements, and guitar (7). Kéba Kébé: voice (7). Ka-yito Orchestra: precussion (3). Yaya: Diolla flute (8). Recorded in Bignona, Senegal in February, 2002.

Tracks: 1. Kassoumaye 2. La prière 3. Le kumpo ded reve 4. Le chasseur d'ombre 5. Bignona ballade 6. Malik song 7. Les oiseaux 8. Les enfants du matin

FKW011: Frankonodou

Personnel: Diefadima Kanté: voice (1-3,6-10), carignan; Hadja Kouyaté: vocals (9); Kaba Kanté: guitar (1-10); Cabiné Kanté: guitar (1-10); Mory Diabaté: balafon (2,5-6,8); Kaba Kouyaté: guitar (5). Recorded in Bougouni, Mali in February, 2001.

Tracks: 1. Saokaba 2. Dudyaya 3. Tissidiba 4. Nanibali 5. Mana Mana Kouma 6. Denon 7. Kara 8. Sienkolowani 9. Diarabi 10. Toro

FKW012: Frikyiwa: La Musique des Maquis

Personnel: N'Gou Bagayoko; Hadja Kouyate & Ali Boulo Santo; Lipitone; Louis 2000; N'Gou Bagayoko; Filifin; Diefadima Kanté.

Tracks: 1. Kulu - N'Gou Bagayoko *2. Si Tu M'Accompagnes - Hadja Kouyate/Ali Boulo Santo 3. Bougoni Sar - Lipitone 4. La Priere - Louis 2000 *5. Tolon Wilikan - N'Gou Bagayoko 6. Siran - Filifin *7. Batoro - Diefadima Kante *8. Balafon Fona - Lipitone *9. Kassoumaye Kiep - Louis 2000 10. Diarabi - Diefadima Kante *11. Miri Magni - Filifin 12. Diefadima - Hadja Kouyate/Ali Boulo Santo (*=previously unreleased)

FKW016: Electronic Experiences in African Music

Personnel and Tracks: 1. Bougouni sou (Remix By Jeff Sharel) - Lipitone 2. Sondila (Remix By Blench) - Filifin 3. Sembéré (Remix By Tokyo Black Star) - Hadja Kouyaté 4. Bakari bamba (Remix By Allover) - N'Gou Bagayoko 5. Siran (Remix By Louis 2000) - Filifin 6. Agné tolona (Reconstrusted By Orchestre Maquizard International) - Hadja Kouyaté 7. Kulu (Remix By Frédéric Galliano) - N'Gou Bagayoko 8. Si tu m' accompagnes (Remix By Luciano) - Hadja Kouyaté 9. Fadjiri seli (Remix By Escal) - Lipitone

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