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The Rough Guide to Desert Blues – More Diverse Than You Might Imagine

Consider this the Nuggets of duskcore. The new Rough Guide to Desert Blues anthology is a vivid illustration of how much variety there is in desert blues, and also includes some excellent tracks by artists outside the circle of usual suspects. No desert blues collection would be complete without Tinariwen or Ali Farka Toure, and this one’s got both. And like all the Rough Guides, it comes with a bonus cd, in this case a whole album of Etran Finatawa which is worth the price of admission all by itself. But the real drawing card here is the more obscure tracks. The most psychedelic is by Tamikrest, layering eerie, atmospheric electric guitar washes against percussive fingerpicking. The most rock-oriented one is by Mauritanian singer Malouma, with Rhodes piano and incisive, distorted electric guitar accents that really catch fire on the turnaround. El Profeta, by Jalihena Natu has a roughhewn, demo feel, his rousing vocals rising over aggressively squiggly hammer-on guitar work. A pretty standard one-chord jam by Tartit morphs unexpectedly into a joyous, circular dance; Western Sahara’s Mariem Hassan belts her song Tefla Madlouma with drama and passion over a repetitive flute-and-guitar riff.

Tinariwen is represented by Tenhert, a slinky, unusually energized proto-boogie with breathless Tamashek lyrics; by contrast, Ali Farka Toure’s Mali Dje is understated even by his standards, patiently staking out terrain with a series of terse, watery guitar motifs. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba contribute a crescendoing Ali Farka Toure-style cut from his excellent new album I Speak Fula. And Tinariwen spinoff Terakaft gets a track that’s almost funk rock with richly cross-shaded guitars, one running through a wah pedal. There are also a couple of ringers here, a simple, repetitive instrumental by Niger’s ngurumi lute virtuoso Mamane Barka and a duskcore-tinged pop song by Amadou and Mariam with soaring, mariachiesque trumpet.

Likewise, the Etran Finatawa cd spans the range of duskcore: the spacious, skeletal opening track; a couple of hypnotic riff-driven numbers that crescendo surprisingly with bracing electric guitar solos; the majestic reverb-guitar anthem Iledeman; the spiky, circular Aliss and Anadjibo, and the playful Ronde with its tricky false endings. It’s out now on World Music Network.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Introducing Mamane Barka

A hypnotic triumph of last-ditch musicology. Mamane Barka is best known in his native Niger as a master of his country’s indigenous lute, the ngurumi. But his dream was to preserve the rapidly disappearing repertoire played on the huge five-stringed harp, the biram, an instrument exclusive to the Boudouma, a nomadic tribe of fishermen living along the banks of Lake Tchad. Considered a holy instrument, the biram richly evokes lakefront sounds, from fish jumping to the lapping of waves against the shore. It’s a quintessential country instrument. Happily, Barka was able to woodshed with the man reputed to be the last living biram virtuoso, Boukar Tar and then bring the songs to WOMAD in 2008 along with his percussionist friend Oumarou Adamou (who also plays on this album). In many respects, this cd, just released by World Music Network,  is to 2009 what Hamza El Din’s Water Wheel was to 1969, potentially a highwater mark (pun intended) in world music recordings. Barka sings in the Boudouma language as well as in Hausa, Toubou and Kanuri, all languages spoken in Niger; the songs mix traditional material along with some of Barka’s own socially conscious compositions.

 

The biram has a gentle resonance, like a muffled oud, yet despite its size, its tonalities range high into the treble where it’s loudest. Barka sometimes trades off rhythmically with the percussion, sometimes conversing in a call-and-response. The songs, rich with polyrhythms and Barka’s terse, precisely articulation are hypnotic, even incantatory. Just as with blues, salsa or rock, there are signature motifs and devices that appear throughout, in this case rhythmic tropes and brief single-note phrases. Some of this is reminiscent of the Malian kora repertoire, but vastly more sparsely arranged; other songs evoke the hypnotic oud music of coastal Yemen. The third track here is a slow, almost hallucinatory chant with percussion that sounds like chains clanging in the distance. The sixth works the murky, lower registers of the biram with echoey call-and-response vocals. Still another track bounces along on a fast 4/4 rhythm, biram and percussion putting a delighted stomp on the last two beats of the verse.  

 

It’s out worldwide on April 20 except in the UK where it will be available May 5; cduniverse has it, among other retailers. Too bad Boukar Tar didn’t live to hear his instrument and its gently mesmerizing songs preserved for the rest of the world to enjoy.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment