ARTIST: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
LABEL: Out Here
At this point in his career, Bassekou Kouyate is synonymous with his instrument, the Malian proto-banjo lute called ngoni. Anything anybody else ever does with the ngoni will be benchmarked against this man, his playing and his innovations. Kouyate’s last two albums have been hard-edged, almost rock-like, reflective of Mali’s trials since 2012’s Northern conflict. On his fifth album, Kouyate returns to his rural routes in Garana, on the Niger River outside of Segou, and to the tone of his first two recordings. The sound is acoustic, the tempos are more relaxed; the whole set has the feel of a front porch jam session. The tension rises, however, each time Kouyate leans in to solo – his playing is just spectacular, extracting sounds that no one ever expected or intended from such a prosaic instrument. Along with his band, fronted by his wife Amy Sacko (one of Mali’s greatest divas in her own right), Kouyate is aided by friends like Malian legend Habib Koite (track 3), Moroccan singer Majid Bekkas (1), veteran griot star Abdoulaye Diabate (6, with Kouyate on slide ngoni) and Snarky Puppy’s Michael League (7). This is Malian music at its finest.
TOP TRACKS: 1 2 3 6 7 11
ALSO RECOMMENDED: 4 5 8 9 10
Bill Lupoletti is world music director at WRIR 97.3 FM and wrir.org in Richmond, Virginia, where he hosts the Global A Go-Go radio program on Wednesdays at 3 PM and writes the globalagogo.com world music blog.