Soô - Habib Koite
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Habib Koité's most recent album was his acclaimed partnership with American blues maestro Eric Bibb, and he has worked for the past few years with Oliver Mutukudzi and Afel Bocoum on the Acoustic Africa project, but it has been seven years since the great Malian guitarist has released an album of his own. It is with real delight then that Contre Jour present this thrilling new addition to Habib's discography. Habib sings in a number of languages, reflecting the diversity of his homeland, but his dextrous guitar work is a constant and his band provide superb backing on these eleven tracks. At times pensive, a reaction to recent events in Mali, but for the most part enchanting, stimulating and uplifting, with songs on topics ranging from love and football, to FGM, the plight of Mali, and quaffing tequila in Los Angeles... Habib perfectly incarnates what Mali is today: a vast multicultural land that yearns for peace and understanding.
Top of the World selection in Songlines magazine. Perhaps it was recording 2012's Brothers in Bamako with the American bluesman Eric Bibb that persuaded Habib Koite it was time for a change; but for whatever the reason, after more than 20 years and half a dozen albums backed by his band Bamada, only bassist Abdul Berthe remains on Soo. It's more than a simple change of personnel, too. He's dropped the drum kit in favour of calabash and djembé and added a banjo to the line-up - an instrument that he was introduced to by Bibb. The result is a lilting set sung in his smooth baritone voice in Malinke, Bamana and Dogon, mixing different Malian traditions and addressing many of the problems currently facing his country. The context of the gently melancholic 'Deme', with its message about living together in peace could not be clearer, given Mali's recent history. 'Need You' is about forced marriage; 'Khafole,' despite its gorgeous lullaby-like melody, is a tragic song about a mother grieving for her dead son. The closer, 'Diadjiry', a song about war and its horrors made famous by Fanta Damba, is played as a sparkling solo guitar piece and reminds us that Habib is one of Africa's most accomplished instrumentalists. The changes have done Habib no end of good. --Songlines
Top Customer Reviews
Here the sound is very polished and smooth but does have an authentic feel. Habib's voice is not one of those big Malian voices, it fits nicely with his acoustic guitar playing. He sings in a variety of different Malian languages: Malinke, Dogon, Khassonke, Bambara, also one track with some English, and another with the universal sound of the whistle! The album is mainly acoustic, there are some keyboards but they fit really well, never overwhelming the sound.
Toumani Diabate plays kora and Bassekou Kouyate n'goni on one track called Terere. The musicians are great throughout - very nice backing vocals, with a banjo on some tracks. The feeling is generally quite laid back with the occasional track having more percussion, for example the faster paced 'Diarabi Niani' or 'Balon tan' which also has a bit of rap. 'LA' is a different version to the one played on Habib's last album with Eric Bibb, it's a song celebrating Tequila!
There's a lovely gentle instrumental track to end the album.
World music is often infused with optimism, and this is no different, but the sonorous tenor vocals of Habib and his thoughtful and often introspective songwriting style are far more subtle than I have come to associate with the music of Africa. Of particular note are the glorious female vocal harmonies that are infused with real depth and beauty.
Habib has clearly listened to a lot of Western roots music (he even plays banjo on many of the tracks), but he doesn't try to emulate it - instead infusing touches of familiar Western musical sensibilities to his own template. I love that. And he really knows how to write a good hookline, too! Score: 4.3/5
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
On Soo, Koite dispenses with Bamada, but the backing musicians on the album still provide great accompaniment, with bass guitar, keyboards, various percussion (though no drums as such) and even the appearance of Toumani Diabate (kora) and Bassekou Kouyate (ngoni) one one song. However, Koite's own mellow voice and fantastic playing is foremost. One notable difference from his previous albums is the inclusion of a banjo in some songs. I must admit, this took some getting used to. Some guest rap vocals on one song are also mildly jarring. However, these are minor gripes as overall it is a very good album.
Nine of ten songs are sung in various Malian languages, with one sung in English. There is a fine instrumental track to finish the album. Album liner notes contain song lyrics in English and French, and some background notes about Habib in English, French, Spanish and German. Most of the songs are slower and fairly laid back, with a couple of faster, more upbeat numbers.
As with all his previous work, this album is full of beautiful music - great songs, great musicianship and fine singing. I can't stop listening to it! If you like any of his earlier albums, or west African music that blends traditional and Western influences in general, you should enjoy this.
This is a very fine set of pieces. I really love the fact that Koite combines pure instrumental pieces with the vocal ones. It makes his albums much more interesting because there is variety in the work. He can do this because he and his band are such gifted musicians both as singers and players of various instruments.
At least one of the songs in this album also appears in another album Koite made in collaboration with the American blues & folk musician, Eric Bibb. (L.A.) The version on Soo sounds different, though--almost like a different piece in its rhythms.