Mbemba is overwhelmingly a very fine listen, easily maintaining Salif Keita's...
Jon Lusk 2004
They say lightning never strikes twice, but this return by the 'Golden Voice of Mali' undermines that claim somewhat. Using much the same team that came up with the stunning Moffou, Mbemba keeps up a very high standard.
M'Bemba is a largely acoustic album with a strong feel forKeita's Mande roots. And his core group of musicians is more or less unchanged. Kante Manfila, his old colleague from the Malian supergroup Les Ambassadeurs brings back his beautifully realised arrangements and distinctive instrumental voice on guitar. Ditto long-term sidekick Ousmane Kouyaté and Djelly Moussa Kouyaté. Percussionist Mino Cinelu is still creating marvellously cinematic atmospheres. There's a swooping female chorus haunting most tracks, and producer Jean Lamoot is still exerting his guiding influence on Keitas sometimes erratic taste.
But Mbemba has a lusher, more saturated sound, and it's upbeat, featuring the kind of studio effects and urgency of voice that characterised 1987 album Soro.
The sense of narrative and momentum hits you the minute "Bobo" appears gradually out of the silence with its insistent cyclical guitar motif. Things head for the dance floor and stay there on "Laban", which has the structure that's typical of vintage Congolese rumba. And there's some delightfully crunchy interplay of guitar and the small banjo-like ngoni on "Yambo". Whatever story Keita sings, he does it with maximum conviction, and this is nowhere more evident than on the epic title track, which features the wonderful Toumani Diabaté on kora and recalls the flowing grace of Jali Musa Jawara's classic "Haidara". And the presence of a guest vocal by Buju Banton tacked onto Ladji is at best irritating. But the closing ghostliness of "Moriba", with Keita accompanied by Adama Coulibaly on an otherworldly 7-stringed simbi should quell any doubts; Mbemba is overwhelmingly a very fine listen, easily maintaining Salif Keita's astonishing post-millennial form.