This is one of the best African CDs I've heard in a long time. Fortunately, the times of silly, artificial sounding studio instruments are over; instead, the music here is carefully recorded and mixed and tastefully arranged and played, using up-to-date studio possibilities. One has the feeling of being quite close to the musicians. The record sounds stripped down, in spite of up to more than 20 participants. Rarely has African music sounded so truly "World Music" - that is, relevant, as here. And, last not least, Salif Keita has got to have one of the most special voices now recording.
If you're reading this review, you will probably know that Salif Keita is Mali's most successful and internationally recognised composer/musician/singer with a history of creating thoughtful, groundbreaking and memorable music. He is incidentally a direct descendant of Mali's royal family, had to fight traditional taboos to become a musician and is, to boot, an African albino about whom many superstitions exist throughout the continent. Though the man has had an interesting and not always easy life, through his music he has finally become an icon in Mali and won over many international listeners from complete ignorance of West-African produced music to becoming avid devotees - including this reviewer.
Great artists often produce one outstanding, seminal work in a long career that stands out from the rest. For Salif Keita, his masterpiece is "Moffou".
On "Moffou" Keita mixes traditional African "griot" musicians (like Malian guitarists Kante Manfile and Djelly Kouyate) with Paris-based jazz and classical musicians to create haunting, melodious and soulful music bursting with life and energy. Believe it, the result is something really special.
"Yamore", the opening song, is an instant hit. With an improbable but inspired French accordion driving the rhythm, Keita's soulful and arresting tenor carries the melody over a tight, joyous female chorus line with rising and falling cascades to produce a synthesis nothing short of magical. I recently played this for someone who had never heard anything by Salif Keita, and she listened to it over and again on a loop for a whole week: love at the first bar.
Keita is an excellent guitarist himself, and some of the most memorable numbers on "Moffou" like the second song "Iniagige" for example, showcase SK with nothing but his acoustic guitar and haunting vocal singing from the heart: beautiful, simple, sublime.
Strong African rhythms, powerful choral vocals, unexpected musical arrangements and first class production values characterise the album and make for a rare and memorable listening experience. Even against all Keita's history of innovative and quality musical output, I never heard anything quite like this. It's a one-off, an instant classic, far more than the sum of its diverse and excellent parts.
If you have room for only one of Keita's albums in your collection, make it this one (if you have room for two, consider "Soro" for the second). It's a corker, a musician's album, one for serious music lovers and an all-time great.
Of noble ancestry, the distinctively albino Salif Keita has been responsible for fusing Mande music with world beats. Yet here, on his eleventh album, he returns to his Maninka roots to deliver his truly beautiful, predominantly acoustic, masterpiece. For on Moffou the tempo generally slows, as ornamental melodies over static harmonies with catchy rhythms are swept along by sweet flowing vocal lines. Repeat listening quickly rewards regular returns to the sinewy turns of rhythm, the percolating bass and guitar lines, the lilt of the African strings and the passionate and delicate beat of the percussion. Keita's golden voice aches with entreaty, resonates with joy, and dances in celebration throughout the album. It's an exquisite return to roots, exemplified by the album title, for 'Moffou' is both the name for the tiny, shrill, handmade flute Malian farmers use to scare birds from their crops and the adopted name of the club that the singer opened in Bamako in 2002 to promote the West African music roots scene. It is most certainly a sharp contrast with the rock and funk grooves of his previous, somewhat disappointing effort, Papa. While that album featured guests such as Grace Jones, Moffou kicks off with a rustically understated seven-minute plus duet with the platinum selling Cape Verdean diva Cesaria Evora. It also reunites Keita with Guinean guitarist and long term colleague, Kante Manfila, who contributes his gracious, meticulously crafted acoustic arrangements, central to the essence of the album. Keita's own considerably skilled fretwork can be heard on three solo guitar-and-voice tracks that punctuate the album (tracks 2, 5 & 8) - look out for, in particular, the slow build and early shifting patterns of the stunning 'Iniagige'; just Salif's acoustic guitar and emotive vocals, and arguably the heart and soul of the album. Elsewhere on the album the singers barely raised, almost Islamic intoned voice is often 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, (the most classical musical style of Mande) 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 sympathetic production bathes everything in an atmospheric patina of effects, which conjures up a sensuous sub-Saharan ambience. There are a couple of more upbeat songs such as infectious dance jams of "Madan" (track 3) and "Koukou" (track 9). Here we witness Malian fiddles and lutes against Cameroonian Guy N'Sangue's funky electric bass and a driving West African percussion section. Despite the compulsory funk of Madan, the overall listening experience remains one of mostly calm and reflection. This suggests Moffou purest strength, being both bold and familiar; a practically flawless and coherent mixture of exhilarating and laid back. The album has a consistent recording sound and sympathetic production throughout. It is a homogeneity that matures with repeated listening with the nuances of rhythm and melody being so tightly entwined as to render them virtually inseparable. Guitarists Djelly Moussa Kouyate and Kante Manfile are both long-term Keita associates from their days together in early Malian supergroups The 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 the aforementioned guest spot from Cape Verde's Cesaria Evora. Parisian accordionist Benoit Urbain is also present and returns later for 'Baba' (track 7). Moffou is comfortably his best work since 1987's landmark international hit Soro and an absolute must for fans of stylish but unplugged West African music. Here the listener is rewarded with spiritually soulful singing, richly subtle rhythmic undercurrents and an African roots sensibility unlike anything this remarkable singer has embraced in a long time. In his early fifties, Salif Keita has finally made the epoch-defining album his admirers have been waiting for and always suspected he had in him. He has never sounded quite so confident, self-aware, and fun-loving. This is not just one of the greatest so called 'World Music' albums (is not all music of this world?!); it is possibly the most beautiful album potentially missing from your music collection of any genre. Absolutely stunning.
This is one of the best pieces of music I have purchased!! This voice is phenomenal and the opening track conveys so much emotion!! He could be reading from a telephone directory but I do not care!! The instrumentation, production and arranging are all top quality, Damon Albarn listen to this before making another cross over album!! Absolutely magical!
This is the work of a confident artist, surrounded by musicians of quality. Keita's voice seems to have softened with age and the songs are mostly acoustic based with some fine backing singing although some pacier tracks have a good rythym section. Authentic in feel the album benefits from modern production without losing its African roots. At times it bares comparison with the fine 'Talking Timbuktu' by Ali Farke Toure/Ry Cooder, and it also resembles the recent Baaba Maal 'Missin You'. Although it lacks real stand out tracks this feels like an album which will be a good companion for many years.
A richly harmonious, polished offering from the Malian musician, Moffou veers from soothing vocal moments to intense instumental peaks, but retains an identity and sure-footedness that guarantees it a place in my CD shelf for many years to come. I listen to this album in the mornings, when its gentle harmonies ease my coffee down, through the day while i work, when it keeps me concentrating without overwhelming me, and in the evening as a perfect, sophisticated and alternative accompaniment to dinner.
The flexibility of this album may be its greatest strength. It possesses a chameleon-like ability to meld itself with whatever I'm doing. Salif Keita's unusually pitched and wavering voice adds a unique charm to a recording that comes from a musical area I'm not usually too excited by.
I'd also recommend you hunt down and have a listen to some of the excellent remixes of Madan out there...The Martin Solveig mix was where I first came across Salif Keita.....
And as a final thought, I'm an absolute sucker for a beautifully presented piece of music, and this is definitely one of those...also, I'm not going to tell you what the poem on the inside cover says, but its worth the cover price alone......
Quite simply one of the best albums I have every heard. This for me is one of the few albums that does not have any 'weak' tracks. I never grow tired of listening to it. This has to be in anyone's top 5 World Music albums.
Bought this in the end because my long admired bootleg PC-made CD copy of it had dropouts when played in my best HiFi gear. Really well recorded; get excellent surround separation with spacial signal processing in a NAD L-90