Boubacar Traoré – The bluesman

I went browsing last week on my favourite world music shop, sternsmusic.com, to see what I might have missed out on since my last visit (children can put months between the things we used to do on a daily basis – happily!). I noticed that I haad missed out on an album that was in fact released two years ago. If you’re a fan of the late Ali Farka Toure, or just love the blues of John Lee Hooker, then come back to the place that Ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik cited as the birthplace of Blues.  The video on the right is taken from the Boubacar’s album Mali Denhou. Relaxing 🙂

Guinea: the old (part 1/2)

I’ve just been listening to a track by the Bembeya Jazz National (see the video on the right). A track from the 1960s needs some context so here goes: it was following Guinean Independence in 1958 that saw Guinean pride soar to new levels and numerous bands sprang up throughout the African country. Of those that appeared, one of the most noted was the Bembeya Jazz National, which won two awards at the Biennale festivals of 1962 and 1964. It’s when you listen to Bembeya Jazz that you appreciate that it’s sound is timeless and, unlike Europe’s modern day Biennale X-factor, by contrast Bembeya will provide people in future years with their musical awakening, and fuel a desire to learn about music from the African continent. The group was formed by Aboubacar Dembar Camara in 1961 and the group, which went on to include members such as lead vocalist Sekouba Mabino Diabate, and Sekou “Diamond Fingers” Diabate on electric guitar, specialized in modern arrangements of classic Manding songs. After Camara was sadly killed ina car accident in 1973 critics said the group lost its sparkle, despite continuing for a number of years before finally disbanding in 1991. So here on these pages we salute Camara and members of Bembeya Jazz National for the music and the passion of their grooves.

Ali and Toumani – their finest collaboration

I’ve just bought an album that has to go down as one of the most spectacular of the year, and it’s been carried off by two of my favourite artists: Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate. But you’re probably asking the question, how can Ali return from the grave to record an album? Well, this was his very last, recorded while he was suffering in his final days. For those familiar with these two virtuoso’s prior collaboration, In the Heart of the Moon which was released in 2004, this final recording session was made the following year, but clearly the release has been held back for an opportune moment.

I’m not sure quite how to express the impact that these two artists have had on my musical awakening. Toumani with the Kora, and Ali Farka Toure with his guitar. I think the fact that I do not understand the language being sung (on Ali’s other albums) creates a further distance between me and the artist. I’ve always been an instrumentalist, liking moods and passages creates by sounds and noise over lyrics trying to tell me a story.

The two albums are subtly different. With the former Toumani’s playing features much more strongly, the Kora has more attitude and takes a greater centre stage. It was Toumani’s first major performance on the international stage and Ali gave the protege the chance to shine. Since that first release Toumani has gone on to produce a further 3 albums and has appeared on numerous collaborative projects.

In ‘Ali and Tomani’ they are one. Even if just 12 months seperate the recording there is a perfect harmony and balance between the instruments. The Kora is less aggressive and blends seamlessly with Ali’s playing. For me, track of the album has to be “Soumbou Ya Ya”. It’s just pure Ali and Toumani sharing the love of their instruments. Not since Ali teamed up with Ry Cooder (‘Talking Timbuktu’) has there been such competiting collaboration.

Rest in peace Ali, you went out on the highest plateau.

Arabo-Muslim…the Great River tradition

afelbocoum

If something sounds familiar about Afel Bocoum’s sound, you only have to look at who tutored him for clues. A member of Ali Farka Touré’s “ASCO” group from the age of 13, provides all the evidence one would need to pin the artist to the groove, but he’s grown beyond that and gone on to become a star in his own right.

Afel’s first album, Alkibar, was released ten years ago and it remains one of my favourite of all time. He describes his playing style as “Arabo-Muslim…in the Great River tradition” and this was certainly a sentiment captured on first album which meandered through the daily activities of life on the Niger river.

In the ten year period since the first release, Afel has collaborated on a number of music projects, most notably Ali Farka Touré’s last album, Savanne.

In Tabital Pulaaku, Afel takes us on a much broader musical journey. He still remains firmly within the African blues genre, but listeners of Tinariwen, Ba Cissoko and Viex Farka Touré are going to enjoy this album, as it’s much more accessible to the new African blues converts, when seen alongside the earlier work.

Melodies and harmonies across the instruments are much more defined in Tabital Pulaaku, and the album transmits a warm energy and timelessness that is, for me, a fundamental component of a successful African blues album.

One of the best tracks on the album is not surprisingly the title track, Tapital Pulaaku. In this we hear Afel’s distinctive voice pushed front stage, and then around the one and a half minute mark, a shift in tempo that reveals a head-bobbing groove, delivering all the expression and relief that African music provides to its fans.

This is an album to be savoured and enjoyed like a fine wine.

Take some African blues now

Kora – just sit back and be amazed

I discovered the Kora 8 years ago while walking through London’s busy Leicester Square. As I was drawn towards the sound, I expected to find a group of musicians playing, instead I discovered just one musician with a Kora in his hands. Hearing it that day stopped me dead in my tracks, and since then I’ve never looked back.

Moving forward a few years and it was the collaboration between one of Africa’s greatest bluesman, Ali Farka Toure (now deceased), and the explosive talents of a certain Toumani Diabate, that brought to the international stage an instrument that’s been a staple in traditional West African music for centuries.

Read on and be awestruck, because here comes the mighty Kora!

The 21 stringed Kora instrumentWhat is the Kora?
The Kora (spelt Cora in French) has 21 heavenly strings and its sound is most closely aligned with the harp, an instrument that has its origins in Egypt, the same continent as the Kora’s birthplace. Principally it’s played in the countries of Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and The Gambia, where artists including Mamadou Diabate, Ba Cissoko, Baba Sissoko, Mory Kanté, Issa Bagayogo, Alhaji Bai Konté, and Tata Dindin Jobarté, bring this instrument to life.

And what a life it has.

Musically the Kora has a range of three octaves and its defining beauty is its ability to operate on many different levels. It can play high, middle, and low notes just like many others, but the Kora can allow a gifted musician to play across all 3 octaves simultaneously. This short video, featuring Toumani Diabate, offers a great example of what I mean.

This is the most amazing instrument, and in the next post we’ll reveal the best albums to introduce you it’s magic.

Have you been spellbound by this instrument too? Please share your experiences with the rest of the TT community below.

Additional resources
Cora Connection

Wikipedia entry

African Blues Evolved – Tinariwen

imidiwanTinariwen’s latest album, Imidiwan, follows on the success of groups 2007 release “Aman Iman: Water is Life”. I’ve been following the groups success right from their beginnings. The story behind the music is one of bloodshed, rebellion and suffering, for an excellent write-up see Andy Morgan’s biography on their website.

For us, it’s the music that moves us, and probably one of the strongest tracks on the album for the uninitaited will be “Lulla”, a track which begins disguising its true intentions, with a few scant hand claps and some incidental plucks at a guitar, before unleashing a jaw dropping groove to liberate the soul. “Tenhert” is also very special with its head nodding chords and reflective vocal passages, while “Enseqi Ehad Didagh” will go down well with long time Tinariwen fans as will the slow and meditative melodies of “Chegret”.

While African blues traditionalists may still argue that “Amassakoul” is Tinariwen’s best contribution to the genre, it would be a mistake for them or any other music lover to dismiss “Imidiwan” on the grounds that it is a departure from the groups earlier sound. The new album represents a much more polished and refined offering than their previews relsease.

Tinariwen have found their comfort zone and strike a formidable balance between old and new styles, with the result that Imidiwan represents their strongest offering to date.

This is an African Blues album at its most accessible, and has something for everyone.