Kandia Kouyate Biriko Review

Album. Released 9 July 2002.  

BBC Review

Mali's best female singer in full cry. The performances are great, the recording is...

Nick Reynolds 2002

Kandia is one of Mali's best known Griots, or "praise singers". Her voice is thick, gritty and powerful, with a big, broad range. On the softer songs she is warm andsoothing. And when she lifts up her voice and starts testifying as on "Sanougnaoule" or "Ibalan" or most of the tracks here, it cuts through the air and electrifies your senses.

She's been doing this all her life (Griots are a caste you are born into, with the tradition handed down through the generations) although this is only her second album. But the Griot tradition of West Africa goes back thousands of years.

A Griot is a combination of a singer, poet, historian, and community leader, the custodian of a particular peoples oral tradition. They're a central part of their communities, binding them together with songs and chants that offer inspiration and consolation to deal with life's struggles and setbacks. For example, "Ibalan" literally translates as "Try Hard".

The first track "San Barana" opens with stunning guitar from Djelimady Tounkara. This sets the standard for a very high quality album. The performances are great, the recording is excellent, even the CD sleeve is lovely. There's plenty of instrumental colour, jolly balafon playing, flute and vocal chorus.

Kandia's own group of musicians provide her with assured backing and some unusual instruments, like violin and accordion provide even more variety. A wah wah pedal and a double bass add a reallyfunky edge to "Tchegniba". There's excellent sax on "Mbensera" played by Nicholas Gueret, which pays tribute to her Kouate griot ancestors. This is conscious music, preaching sometimes but always sympathetic and never judgmental, as on "Mortalite".

Even if you don't understand a word of it, it's life affirming and joyful. It pulses with integrity and passion, and exudes a deep, reassuring strength. Your spirits are lifted up. You feel in a better mood to face the day and to try a little bit harder.

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