West Africa: Frikyiwa's Mix of Ancient and Modern

AAJ Staff By

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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
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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