Infectious afropop from Niger, featuring the honeyed tones of singer Yacouba Moumouni.
Peter Marsh 2002
Mamar Kassey are from Niger, sandwiched between Nigeria, Algeria and Mali, and are named after a legendary warrior who extended the Songhai empire into the Sahara Desert.
This is the second record from the nine piece who have been together since 1995, and it's possibly the most infectiously breezy, life affirming slice of Afropop you're likely to hear all year.
As you might expect, there's a strong Wassolou tinge to the music, but the use of lutes and single string violin as well as electric bass and guitar give the music a distinctive, Arabic flavour and an earthy, bubbling energy.
The band's rhythms are unlocked, almost floating, yet groove hard enough to provoke involuntary spine twitching in the listener, with the dual percussion attack of tambour and calabash underpinning the forest of crossrhythms. The occasionally rough recording quality doesn't hurt either and suits the vital immediacy of Mamar Kassey's music; there's no Parisian studio gloss here.
Leader Yacouba Moumouni's voice is like honey seasoned with pepper; a sweet rasp that floats and soars effortlessly over the rich, layered rhythms of the band, answered by the female chorus. He's no slouch on the flute either; overblowing, false fingering and impossibly fast, tumbling runs are coupled with an improvisational sense that rivals the finest kora players; his unaccompanied solo on the opening 'Foulbe Gari' is a tour de force.
The other players are equally as good; Harouna Abdou's bass is fat, mobile and funky, while the lutes provide rolling, bluesy riffs, occasionally surfacing for brief solo statements. There's not a duff track on the album, though the closing 'Alzouma' (co-writen by jazz flautist James Newton) runs out of steam fairly early on. But that's nitpicking - this is a fantastic record.