Mali Music (Astralwerks)
By: Glenn BurnSilver
Perhaps the best thing about Blur front man Damon Albarn being instrumental in the construct of Mali Music is that the album may well be picked up by people who otherwise might take no interest in the fantastic music that emanates from West Africa's largest country. Albarn, a darling of the British music scene, became enamored with Mali on a visit there and later returned to put together an album featuring many of Mali's great musicians and disparate music styles. Vocalists Afel Bocoum and Alkibar, kora players Banoko Diakite and Toumani Diabate, along with many lesser known local musicians are featured on this album. It is a strong introduction to the traditional, but generally overlooked, music of Mali. Singing is done in Bambara, the native tongue, while the songs combine ancient melodies, griot (storyteller) customs, vocal chants, traditional West African instruments (kora, xylophone, njurka, balafon and kalimba) and subtle, high-pitched guitars in musical arrangements that are generally hypnotic, moving and staggering in beauty. They capture the heart of a country rich with musical legacy that should be accessed by a larger audience. Perhaps that is Albarn's role here, but next time maybe he will involve more of Mali's key players, such as Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita or Habib Koite.
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