The Golden Voice of Mali has occasionally been accused of bombast, but Moffou
should silence that particular criticism. It's an exquisite return to roots, and a sharp contrast with the rock and funk grooves of his previous effort, Papa
. While that album featured guests such as Grace Jones, Moffou kicks off with a rustically understated duet with Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora. It also reunites Keita with Guinean guitarist Kante Manfila, his old colleague from Les Ambassadeurs. Keita's own surprisingly skilled fretwork can be heard on the three solo guitar-and-voice tracks that punctuate the album. The singer barely raises his voice throughout and he's backed by a soaring chorus of five female singers. Together, their call-and-response interactions underline how closely Moffou
brings him back to his Maninka roots, even though none of the songs are directly based on traditional tunes. The arrangements are largely acoustic, with local instruments such as kamalengoni (youth harp) and n'goni (the West African precursor of the banjo) featuring prominently alongside touches of accordion, piano, marimba and subtle percussion. The production bathes everything in an atmospheric patina of effects, which conjures up a sensuous sub-Saharan ambience. Though there are a couple of more upbeat songs such as "Madan" and "Koukou", this is essentially a rather calm reflective set. His best work since Soro
, and a must for fans of stylish but unplugged West African music --Jon Lusk
Moffou marks a return to form for Mali's most famous male solo artist. Salif Keita's career appeared to be flagging slightly upon the release of 1999's lacklustre electro-based Papa. Here, he has wisely opted for an almost totally acoustic production. The combination of Mali's finest traditional instrumentalists with the cream of Paris' neo-classical and nu-jazz acoustic players is an uncommonly happy one.
Guitarists Djelly Moussa Kouyate and Kante Manfile are both long-term Keita associates from their days together in early Malian supergroupsThe Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs. They hit the 'jeli' (griot) groove right from the start.
The opener, 'Yamore', sets the seal: the song's romantic wistfulness is underlined by guest spots from Cap Verde's Cesaria Evora and Parisian accordionist Benoit Urbain.
Keita's own considerable skill as a guitarist in his three solo performances - especially 'Iniagige' - is in evidence throughout. The effortlessly rocking tempo of 'Madan' juxtaposes Malian fiddles and lutes against Camerounian Guy N'Sangue's funky electric bass and a driving West African percussion section.
The album has a consistent recording sound throughout. But it's a homogeneity that matures with repeated listenings into a shifting tapestry of rhythm and texture. For instance, the last two tracks, 'Koukou' and 'Here', share an almost Caribbean lilt. Closer inspection lays bare a strong Brazilian influence in the former, and an old-fashioned calypso edge to the latter, accentuated by Arnaud Devos' novel steel drum work.
The album has already achieved some of Keita's strongest sales to date and will undoubtedly figure highly in many 'best of 2002' charts. Highly recommended. --John Armstrong
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