After his award winning album 'Segu Blue' the ngoni wizard from Mali is back with a new offering: I speak fula'. The album captures the incredible live energy of Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba and is the next step in the career of one of Mali's most exciting and innovative musicians coming out of Africa. Bassekou has transformed the traditional music of the ngoni into the modern world. With his band Ngoni ba he has created a new lineup as a quartet with a rock band's style of playing. Bassekou opened up the magic of an age-old music, to people all over the world. For Bassekou Kouyate it has been a long journey that started out in Garana, a small village on the Niger river where he grew up, then took him to the town of Segu, capital of his region, and on to Mali's capital Bamako. And now it is taking him and his music around the world. Welcome to a new chapter of this exciting story.
The influence of African pop music on Western musicians like Foals and Vampire Weekend has been much talked up in recent years, but it’s worth reminding one’s self that influence runs both ways.
Bassekou Kouyate is something of a maverick and innovator in his homeland of Mali. Skilled on the ngoni, a wooden lute traditional to West Africa, Kouyate was reportedly one of the first young African musicians to dispense with tradition and play his instrument while standing as one might solo on a guitar – controversial, at the time, but a style now far from unusual amongst West Africa’s more forward-thinking groups.
I Speak Fula is the follow-up to Segu Blue, Kouyate’s widely-acclaimed 2007 album with his band Ngoni ba. Since Kouyate's stand-up playing, he and his band have made further innovations to traditional ngoni play, adding a low-tuned customised bass ngoni and adding extra strings to make their instruments more harmonically flexible. The results are pretty spectacular. Astonishingly intricate melodies dancing over and across each other, long winding solos unfurling over clacking percussion, while the vocals – male harmonies and clear song from Kouyate’s wife, Amy Sacko – are soft in tone, but gain in power as the tempo rises.
Yet there’s never any doubt from the tone and delivery that this is essentially party music: the title track is played in a style called koreduga, which despite its somewhat tricky 9/8 rhythm, functions as dancing music in Mali. Jamana Be Diya, a variant on a popular Gambian song, doffs its cap to Barack Obama. And a couple of tracks featuring Vieux Farka Touré, son of Ali Farka Touré, add bluesy electric guitar to the mix – notably Saro, a prayer to loved ones dedicated to Kouyate’s late brother.
Intricate in play but endlessly listenable, I Speak Fula deserves to find its way out of the world music ghetto and onto the world stage. --Louis Pattison
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