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Following a showstopping collaboration at the 2010 edition of the Brazilian festival Back2Black, Grammy-winning Toumani Diabaté invited Brazilian songwriter, poet and artist Arnaldo Antunes and guitar-hero Edgard Scandurra to Mali to record with him. The resulting album A Curva Da Cintura is released on London based Brazilian imprint Mais Um Discos. Arnaldo and Edgard arrived in Mali in April 2011 with a collection of songs they had written together. With Malian musicians they combined rock n roll, African roots and blues to create an uplifting Afro-Brazilian fusion that celebrates the spirit of collaboration and connects Mali and Brazil in a way that blurs geographical and musical boundaries. As one of the most influential African musicians of the 21st century Toumani Diabaté needs no introduction. The 71st generation of his family to play the kora, he has released over 10 solo and collaborative albums, winning the Best Traditional World Music Album at the Grammys in 2010 and 11. Arnaldo Antunes is a legendary Paulistina (native of Sao-Paulo) who rose to fame in the early 80s as the driving force behind Titas, one of Brazils most influential and popular rock groups of the 80s. Edgard Scandurra is a Paulistina guitarist, composer and singer who was a founder member of Ira!, one of the most important contemporary Brazilian rock groups. Listed as one of the 100 Greatest Brazilian Artists by Brazilian Rolling Stone. Toumanis sublime kora playing is the perfect contrast to Arnaldos sombre almost mechanical voice. Also featured is Toumani's son Sidiki, Afrocubism band member Fode Lassana Diabaté on balafon and Zoumana Tereta who adds his guttural soku fiddle.
This rather oddball Mali/Brazil collaborative album comprises the follow-up to a performance by these three musicians at the Brazilian festival Back2Black in 2010.
Singer/poet Arnaldo Antunes is best known outside Brazil for his role in another three-way collaboration – the hugely successful Tribalistas album he made with compatriots Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown in 2002. In that instance, his droning but engaging voice was restricted to backing vocals. So it’s interesting to hear him actually sing here.
Of course, the world’s most famous kora player, Toumani Diabaté, scarcely needs introducing. Conversely, São Paulo-based guitarist, composer and singer Edgard Scandurra is a major figure on the Brazilian music scene, but not so recognised beyond it.
Though not without a certain naïve charm, A Curva da Cintura actually sounds more like a work in progress, or even a scrapbook of musical ideas, rather than a finished album, and suffers from a dearth of fully formed songs.
Underwhelming opener Cê Não Vai Me Acompanhar plods along on a leaden 4/4 beat. With such a rich array of roots rhythms to choose from, in both Malian and Brazilian music, this feels like a let-down. But a radically altered interpretation of Diabaté’s Kaira stands out.
The original was the beautifully meditative title track of his 1988 solo debut, and also appeared as an instrumental on his 2005 collaboration with Ali Farka Touré, In the Heart of the Moon. This new version has a vocal from both Antunes and Safiatou Diabaté, the wife of Toumani’s younger brother, Sidiki. It also has some lovely balafon by Fode Lassana Diabaté of the Afrocubism project.
There is an intriguing moment towards the end of the bluesy Ir, Mão, when the gritty-voiced griot Zoumana Tereta joins in with his soku fiddle and some eerie wailing. It’s just a shame there isn’t more of this kind of chemistry apparent in many places, or a little more substantial songwriting.
Some redemption is found in the carnivalesque conclusion of Coração de Mãe and the light-hearted rock-out Meu Cabelo (‘My Hair’). But like many a "supergroup" before them, this one doesn’t quite meet the expectations that their combined reputations create.
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