Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Terakaft’s Aratan N Azawad – A Desert Blues Classic

Terakaft (“Caravan” in the Tamashek dialect of their home base, Mali) have a reputation as the hardest-rocking of the North African Tuareg desert blues bands. Their latest album Aratan N Azawad – out now from World Village Music – flips the script, edging further toward the hypnotic otherworldliness of the rest of their nomadic brethren. Like Tinariwen, with whom they’ve shared band members, Terakaft has had a rotating cast of characters – no surprise, considering that the desert blues community is a closeknit one. Many of these musicians are also freedom fighters, since the territory their nomadic ancestors roamed for literally millennia has been decimated by war over the years. This happens to be the first Terakaft album without founder Kedou Ag Ossad, which may account for the more pensive, trance-rock sound here – although the songs are as terse as always, seldom going on for more than four minutes. This latest edition of the band includes a two-guitar frontline of Liya Ag Ablil and Sanou Ag Ahmed, with Abdallah Ag Ahmed on bass and Mathias Vaguenez on drums, with what sounds like the whole band taking turns with the vocals’ mantralike call-and-response.

The swaying, bouncy, upbeat title track works a bluesy riff as the guitars snake and intertwine, bristling with natural distortion, bass rising unexpectedly mid-riff over a simple, insistent 4/4 beat. The second cut is funkier, lit up by a Chicago-style blues lead with slinky bent notes. The title track raises the question of how aware the band might be that what they’re playing is essentially a brooding folk-rock song, sort of a Tuareg counterpart to As Tears Go By; an educated guess is that any resemblance is probably intentional. The following cut offers a nonchalant, polyrhythmic vibe similar to Etran Finatawa; the one after that reverts to the bounce of the opening track but with an even simpler and more optimistic feel.

The best song here, Amazzagh, harks back to the band’s earlier work, packed with delicious reverb-toned lead guitar and a 1960s psychedelic folk tinge. The rest of the tracks range from a trio of Tinariwen-style, suspensefully unwinding one-chord vamps; another with Afrobeat overtones; and a 60s soul shuffle done as desert blues. To western ears, without the benefit of understanding the Tamashek lyrics, all indications are that they’re characteristically allusive: offering encouragement to the young not to give up hope; mourning the loss of ancestral lands; and more direct, slightly more fervent appeals to keep the party going. As this band deserves to: this is their party for their right to fight. For fans of desert blues, it’s an essential album.

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July 20, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Taste of the Mafrika Festival

Year after year, the Mafrika Festival just gets better and better. The annual daylong, outdoor world music concert takes place at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Today’s surprisingly oldschool weather (low heat and humidity – who would have thought?) made it even easier to stick around for a bunch of excellent, eclectic bands.

The first real band to take the stage after one in the afternoon was Super Hi-Fi, led by Aphrodesia bassist Ezra Gale. With two trombones, guitar, bass and drums, they moved from edgy, minor-key roots reggae to hypnotic, rhythmically tricky Afrobeat to a little straight-up rock and then back again. The early part of the set was the reggae section, the trombones creating a terse, incisive live dub ambience, guitar going off on a surprising noiserock tangent in places. Later on they picked up the pace: one of the later songs went deep into jazzy territory as the trombones diverged, shadowed each other just a fraction of a beat apart and finally converged as they pulled it back into a reggae groove. Then they did a bouncy tribute to minivans, the most popular way to get around in West Africa.

Three-piece punk band the Band Droidz followed: “Harlem born and raised,” the frontman/guitarist proudly told the rapidly expanding crowd. They were excellent. The early part of the set was straight-up, catchy punk rock, the guitarist’s soulful voice too low in the mix for the lyrics to cut through: a band whose tunes and playing are this smart usually has good lyrics, and it was obvious from their interaction with the audience that they’re on the conscious tip. They proved just as good at roots reggae as they are at punk, then midway through the set, they went for more of an indie metal feel. One of the songs sounding like an update on 19th Nervous Breakdown; another used a tune much like the Velvets’ Lady Godiva’s Operation as the launching pad for a long, psychedelic, bone-bleaching guitar solo. The Band Droidz are at SOB’s on the 12th at around 9, and then playing a free in-studio show at Ultrasound, 251 W 30th St. on the 7th floor on 7/16 at 9.

Ivoirien roots reggae star Sekouba a.k.a. Sekouba Diakite and his eleven-piece backing band were next, and were the biggest crowd-pleasers of the afternoon. Delivering his songs in his native land’s dialects, he and the band – two guitars, two percussionists, keyboards, bass, drums and backup singers – stretched the songs out into epics, with frequent hypnotic percussion breaks. He’s a charismatic performer with a genuine social awareness: he doesn’t just give lip service to issues like immigrant rights and world peace. Midway through the set, he did a couple of love songs, one with a catchy yet ornate Marleyesque vibe, another as a duet with one of the women singing harmonies. When the keyboards finally came up in the mix, the anthemic sweep of the songs really took off, as towering as anything Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy ever did.

Psychedelic funk/Afrobeat band the People’s Champs have an excellent new album out (recently reviewed here): onstage, they proved even more eclectic, switching from one groove to another throughout their long, slinky songs. With Super Hi-Fi’s brass section (one of the trombonists switching to trumpet) out in front of bass, drums and keys and their frontwoman’s gritty, edgy vocals, they started out with Afrobeat, then took it down with a mysterious, broodingly psychedelic mini-epic, then brought it back up again with a jaunty vintage 70s soul/funk feel. By now, the space in front of the stage had become a multigenerational dancefloor, a couple of little kids climbing up on the stage to show off their moves (something that would never be allowed at, say, Central Park Summerstage).

Next on the bill was kora (West African harp) virtuoso Yacouba Diabate. How well would his spikily hypnotic, methodically crescendoing one-chord vamps go over with this party crowd? Everybody listened. And as the songs went on, the volume picked up. Backed by bass, drums, djembe and a bongo player who added echoey machine-gun sonics, Diabate methodically brought the volume up and then dipped down again. The best song of the set, in fact one of the best of the afternoon, was a plaintive minor-key number with Middle Eastern allusions, the percussion backing away and letting Diabate’s haunting melodies ring out. By the time they’d finished, it was after five, and the sun had finally come out of hiding from behind the clouds. As tempting as the rest of the bill looked, this meant for us that it was time to grab some some spicy, homemade lamb stew from one of the vendors and then find out what kind of torture the subway had in store.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Kicks Ass on The Secret – How About the Special Guests?

Many years ago, a bunch of early jam band guys got together and decided to make a tribute to Muddy Waters. The result was a lacklustre album called Fathers and Sons (it’s easy to find, if you really want to hear it). The guys from the Butterfield Blues Band and their friends were bigger fans of Muddy’s than he was of them, but probably since it beat working as the handyman at Chess Records (which is what the guy who might have been the greatest blues slide guitarist of all time did when he wasn’t on tour or in the studio), Waters did the album. And phoned it in. Fast forward a little more than forty years: some of the big names on the American jam band circuit have discovered powerhouse Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure (the oldest son of the great Ali Farka Toure). And they’re all over his new album, The Secret. The biggest secret here is that almost all of them elevate their game – with one exception, this isn’t a bunch of white wannabes patronizing somebody from another tradition whose music they admire. For the most part, this is a clinic in how musicians from different cultures can create real alchemy if they’re inspired.

What’s nicest to see is that Toure is allowed to be the star he is, doubletracking and tripletracking here and the result is exhilarating. Acoustic rhythm guitarist Ali Magassa holds it down incisively and hypnotically with broken chords and simple, direct riffs over the loping calabash and djembe of Souleymane Kane. The first track, Sokosondou sets the stage for what’s to come with an endless succession of molten lava hammer-ons and hypnotic call-and-response vocals in Toure’s native dialect. Toure plays acoustic on the second cut, Aigna, where Derek Trucks does a surprisingly killer evocation of a sitar with his slide guitar, livening up the dusky atmospherics, getting darker and growlier as it goes on. Guess all that hanging out with Susan Tedeschi has been a good thing for him! The fourth track, Ali is a vertigo-inducing polyrhythmic forest of guitars, Toure throwing in a subtle, ominous chromatic allusion once in awhile

The first of the Malian/American hybrids, here, Watch Out is a swaying, funky number featuring Eric Krasno (of the generic Soulive and dubious Lettuce), who contributes some biting, vibrato-toned incisions with a little wah thrown in for good measure. Aaron Neville, who knows a little something about hypnotic grooves, hangs back with the beat and adds terse, smart organ fills; Toure winds it out with one of his unstoppable, stunningly precise, adrenalizing solos. A boisterously swaying, mostly acoustic number, Wonda Guay has Toure lingering overhead like an out-of-control helicopter. The title track, a hypnotic, resolute instrumental features a guitar track by his late father along with spiky textures from Ganda Tounkara’s ngoni and Cheikh Diallo’s distant flute atmospherics. It’s one of those tracks where it’s hard to figure out who’s playing what – you just get lost in it. The poignantly catchy closing track, Touri, is much the same. Borei, a fast, shuffling concert favorite is a feast of Toure textures, fast fluid runs, chords blasting on the beat and a searing, mostly one-note solo midway through.

The most traditional desert blues song here, Sankare Diadje has a typical call-and- response over a hypnotic, circular two-chord theme. Meandering, midtempo and ominously modal, Gido features John Scofield, who slinks through a wary, slowly furtive chromatically-charged solo and only puts the bite on once, at the very end, when he can’t contain himself any longer. Amani Quay begins with a gorgeous twelve-string acoustic intro that gives way to a shuffling, hypnotic groove, Toure picking it up and blasting through yet another rapidfire solo, this one a little sunbaked and slightly restrained. The only dud here features the clown prince of wretched jamband excess, Dave Matthews. When you put this on your ipod, you’ll want to delete track three. But what a pleasant surprise this is – and reason to check out what Derek Trucks and Eric Krasno have been up to lately.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boubacar Traore Returns with More Hypnotic Desert Blues Magic

This is the kind of album you find at Awesome Tapes from Africa. Along with Ali Farka Toure, Boubacar Traore is one of the fathers of desert blues: now close to 70, the superstar Malian guitarist’s voice has taken on a flintier edge as the years have passed, but otherwise his playing is as hypnotically gripping as it was forty years ago when his cassettes began circulating in his native land. His latest album Mali Denhou is characteristic: sometimes brooding, sometimes warmly circling, it’s a display of minimalist intricacy that European composers struggle trying to achieve. Traore does this effortlessly, backed by spare, simple percussion and mournful chromatic harmonica, occasionally with dual acoustic guitar tracks.

Traore’s solos are typically limited to an expansive bar or two, often to signal a change or the return of a chorus: the harmonica is the lead instrument here, and it is excellent, woundedly spiraling or letting the end of a phrase trill out over the steady rotation of the guitar riff underneath. Traore sings in his native dialect, usually with the patient stoicism that characterizes Malian desert music, occasionally rising to meet the crescendo of the guitars. The album’s opening tracks feature marimba interwoven among the guitars, so seamlessly that it’s impossible to figure out who’s playing what unless you’re paying close attention. A couple of the later ones feature a lute that sounds like a higher-pitched oud, snaking through the thicket of casually intricate textures. An early track has a lullaby feel; the final one runs a warm circular motif over and over. Another hints at an upbeat 1-4-5 change, evocative of some of reggae legend Burning Spear’s simpler, more direct, African-influenced songs. There’s also a mini-epic that begins with a distinctly flamenco-tinged riff. But as with the rest of Traore’s voluminous back catalog, it’s the dusky otherworldly minor modes that deliver the most chills, and there are plenty of them, from the stately title track, an anthem in 6/8 time, to a couple of rhythmically trickier, slowly unwinding numbers, building from skeletal yet incisive hooks that essentially serve as basslines. Imagine the expanse of the desert from beyond the tent, as the sun goes down at last and a breeze breaks the spell of the heat for the first time. This is magical music from a magical player who’s been around a long time. Fans of the current crop of desert blues bands like Tinariwen or Etran Finatawa have a lot to enjoy here. It’s out now on the adventurous French Lusafrica label.

May 3, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Thoughtful, Pensive Collaboration from Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal

An elegant collection of mostly duo performances, the aptly titled Chamber Music by Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and enterprising French cellist Vincent Segal is a thoughtfully paced, generous collaboration. It is most likely composed all the way through, yet has a quietly inspired improvisational feel, as the two musicians trade off themes, lead melodies and basslines. Sometimes a bright kora theme will be transposed to the cello’s lower registers, other times they’ll switch a pizzicato cello bassline to the kora. The motifs here are very terse: Sissoko plays nimble, intricately twining lines rather than indulging in lickety-split displays of speed, while the cello is employed more frequently for rhythm than for atmospherics. With the lead lines mostly carried by the kora, this has much more of a Malian feel than a European one, although a couple of Segal compositions – particularly the marvelously pensive Histoire de Molly, with its eerie cello arpeggios – introduce elements of the baroque. This is an excellent headphone album, equally effective as late-night wind-down music.

The title track is a sort of synopsis of the whole album, a stately, swaying groove where both musicians echo each other, the kora introduces a dance and then turns it over to the cello – and then Sissoko’s solo, rather than being a crescendo, brings it down again. The next track is hypnotic and circular – imagine this as played by an electric band and you’d have Afrobeat. The following composition, by Sissoko, is basically a canon, featuring a rippling, twinkling balafon solo from Fassery Diabate. The album concludes with a wistful, 6/8 ballad, a suspensefully cinematic theme that kicks off with Indian raga influences, and a long, pensive, dynamically-charged overture. Throughout the album, the subtle, conversational interplay between the two musicians is full of unexpected twists and turns, a seemingly endless series of gently surprising ideas.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Khaira Arby’s Timbuktu Tarab Reinvents Desert Blues

Khaira Arby is sort of the Aretha Franklin of Mali and what’s more, she’s got an amazing band. They’re playing Joe’s Pub on 9/29 at 7 and if her new album Timbuktu Tarab is any indication, the show should be pretty intense. A cousin of desert blues legend Ali Farka Toure, Arby sings in four indigenous dialects with a fearless, raspy wail, unafraid to buck convention and challenge traditional Muslim social order (one can only wonder if she’d get away with this if she wasn’t related to Malian duskcore nobility ). Her band is just as intense. The dual guitars of Abdramane Touré and M’Barka Dembelé blend hypnotically with a wild eclecticism that ranges from snaky desert blues to oldschool American soul, sixties psychedelic rock and even tinges of country music, further enhanced by Ebellaou Yattara’s spiky ngoni lute, the screechy fiddle of Zoumane Tekereta and an exuberant harmony vocal duo.

The album opens on a pretty standard desert blues note but hints at the stunning originality that will come soon after, the band stopping cold and letting Arby wail until the central riff kicks in again. The second cut, simply titled Khaira, spins along on a hypnotic web of interlocking guitar lines, intricate, lightning hammer-ons over a growling, distorted, percussive attack. The methodically hypnotic Djaba, a tribute to a legendary warrior, bounces with swirling flute-like fiddle and more interlocking guitars.

A shout-out to a friend, Dja Cheikna has the backup vocals going full tilt, a dazzling guitar solo and stomping twin-guitar outro. The unapologetic feminist anthem Wayidou has tinges of ornate 70s art-rock; a blistering attack on female genital mutilation, Feryene begins with a haunting psychedelic rock intro straight out of the Pretty Things circa 1967, then winds down into otherworldly duskcore, overtones flying like little banshees from the off-center interplay of the guitars. And the band pull out all the stops on Delya, a showstopper and a genuine high point in the history of desert blues, mixing psychedelic rock, art-rock, Afrobeat and desert blues and a passionate performance from the backup choir. There are also a couple of vividly soul-influenced numbers, one with some unexpected, bucolic American C&W tinges; the last cut on the album is a cross between late 60s psychedelic soul music and desert blues. It’s hard to imagine a more original album in any style of music released this year: you’ll see this on our best of 2010 list in December.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Meta and the Cornerstones and Vieux Farka Toure Live in NYC 4/27/10

Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge, one of the best doublebills in New York so far this year featured a headliner straight from Africa and an opener one step removed. Roots reggae band Meta and the Cornerstones have a Senegalese-American frontman along with band members from Lebanon, Israel and Texas, to name a few places. Bouncing their way through a set as diverse as the musicians’ origins, they reaffirmed their status as one of New York’s most captivating live acts. With two guitars, rhythm section, percussion, backup singer and a terrific keyboardist playing through organ and piano settings instead of the cheesy synthesized brass that the Jamaicans have been using for so long now, they set the tone for the night by getting at least 80% of the crowd on their feet and dancing throughout their too-brief 40-minute set. Among the songs were a wistful Marleyesque reminiscence about a night spent on a rooftop; a rousing anthem with a big, dramatic overture of an introduction dedicated to peace in the Middle East; a bracing minor-key narrative about a weed dealer in the hood hiding out from the cops; a fiery, upbeat song about the dispossessed underclass featuring a brief diversion into dub; a Brazilian-inflected dance tune, and then one dedicated to Senegal. The keyboardist took a solo using a stark, reverberating oldschool Arp synth setting, from minor-key wariness to soaring, jazzy flights down the scale and earned a roaring ovation. A surprising number of people left after they were done – their loss, because in his New York debut, Malian desert blues scion Vieux Farka Toure put one of the most exhilarating displays of guitar virtuosity this city’s seen in recent months.

It was the last stop on Ali Farka Toure’s oldest son’s latest American tour – he opens the World Cup festivities with a performance in Johannesburg this summer – and as expected it was a party. Playing through an icy wash of chorus and reverb somewhere between Albert Collins and late-period Ike Turner, he ran a series of simple, catchy, blues based phrases at mind-boggling, 32nd-note speed. Watching this guy fire off one endless salvo after another brought to mind an old John Coltrane comment: a writer once asked why he played so many glissandos, to which Coltrane retorted, “Those aren’t glissandos – they’re arpeggios.” Most guitarists of the Steve Vai or Buckethead school play like a fireman who’s lost control of a high pressure hose, hanging on for dear life as it randomly knocks over everything in its path. Toure shreds – but soulfully. His first-class four-piece backing unit – drums, calabash and an acoustic rhythm guitarist often playing in tandem with the bassist – were tight, inspired and seemingly invigorated for one last show, following every cue in a split-second as Toure would introduce a new rhythm or motif, or pull back and give himself a breather, getting a clapalong or some call-and-response vocalese going with the crowd.

The secret to his success? Simplicity. While his famous father would stay in the same key for twenty minutes at a clip, this particular Toure fils likes two-chord vamps, funky minor-key riffs and what he calls reggae but is basically just raw, primitive, pounding rock (the percussion section had a blast with a couple of these). He started the first numbers out slowly, rubato, feeling his way into them (once with a stark Middle Eastern riff) until the band picked up and then the race was on. The quietest number pulsed and blasted along on a slinky 6/8 soul beat, crazed, percussive sharpshooter guitar juxtaposed with silence as Toure methodically chose his spots. The drums went three on four for an especially hypnotic effect during the loudest and most intense of the final numbers.

By the time they reached the encore, Toure seemed pretty much out of gas but reached back for three long, incendiary crescendos, various members of both bands dancing around the stage (one of the promoters as well, though she was shy), finally leaving the stage to the percussionists who kept a volcanic rumble going until it was clear that the rest of the band really wasn’t coming back.

April 29, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula

‘Even if there is a war going on and it is difficult to travel, a griot, with his ngoni slung around his back, was always allowed through, because it was known that he was going to play for a leader, and perhaps act as an intermediary for political negotiations,” remarked Bassekou Kouyate recently. Where he comes from, music has a few more more important functions than mere entertainment. The Malian bandleader’s axe of choice is the ngoni, a stringed instrument commonly referred to as the ancestor of the banjo with a similar clanking tone, rapid attack and decay. He gets major props in his native land for resurrecting the instrument from obscurity, adding both new techniques as well as western influences and modern electronic guitar effects. It’s not known if he’s ever been pressed into duty as a negotiator between warring factions. On US tour with Bela Fleck starting this month promoting their somewhat defiant new album I Speak Fula, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba have come to conquer.

This is urban Malian music: spiky, circular and hypnotic in the indigenous folk tradition, but packed with imaginative licks and production touches that reveal how diverse Kouyate’s influences are, from fellow Malian Ali Farka Toure to Hendrix. It’s a mix of originals as well as new arrangements of historical ballads from over the years. What Tinariwen has done for the Tuaregs, these guys could do for what’s coming out of the cool kids’ ghetto blasters on the streets of Bamako – this stuff absolutely rocks.

The cd opens energetically with boisterous, spiraling ngoni and kora (West African harp)- throughout the album, interplay, much of it absolutely psychedelic, abounds. The first of the two most extraordinary tracks here is a tribute to Kouyate’s brother – who died while the album was being recorded – with Kouyate and Malian desert blues scion Vieux Farka Toure playing dizzying wah-wah clusters around each other. The other, Ladon, is a feast of scurrying blues runs, Kouyate showing off his bag of tricks with a big rapidfire crescendo of blues licks that could be American, or not. The band builds this to an unexpectedly explosive coda at the end: acoustic Malian heavy metal.

The closest thing to rock here is the impressively feminist Musow, fast and flurrying with wah-wah ngoni, building up to the end of the verse with a neat three-chord sequence, along with a big 6/8 ballad that could be British or Appalachian except for the language, Kouyate coming in hard against Vieux Farka Toure’s pensive, spacious guitar, nudging the guitarist to elevate his game. There’s also a swaying number that incorporates what sound like elements of both delta and Piedmont blues (or maybe not – this is where all that stuff originated, anyway), a dedication to Kouyate’s wife and bandmate/singer Amy with an intense, hypnotic jam between ngoni and Zoumana Tereta’s fiddle, and the pensive Moustafa, where the ngoni sounds almost like a vibraphone. Definitely the most exciting thing to come out of Africa since Tinariwen’s latest, last year. The album, believe it or not, is out on Sub Pop (the folks who brought you Nirvana).

February 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment