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Critics Award Salif Keita

Salif Keita (Mali)

Song : Madan
Nominated album : Moffou (Universal)

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Elsewhere in BBCi : Album review | Charlie Gillett review

Right from the opening notes, it's obvious this is Salif Keita's back-to-roots album. One hour later, it's also clear that Moffou is his best since Soro, and maybe even his finest ever.

Bombastic tendencies have at times marred his work, and I for one didn't care greatly for the Vernon Reid co-produced Papa, which took him further away from Maninka traditions than any previous work. Moffou shows us a far more delicate side of Salif, thanks in large part to the atmospheric co-production by Jean Lamoot, Freddy Zerbib and the singer himself.

Things kick off in maximum style on a duet with the fabulous Cesaria Evora. Guitar tendrils, accordeon, brush-struck cymbals and subtle sonic twinges set a peaceful tone that is sustained through even the more upbeat numbers, like the driving Madan and Koukou. Best of all is the hypnotic mid-tempo groove of Moussolou, which floats along in a ravishing heat haze of effects.

Credit must go to guitarist Kante Manfila (Keita's old colleague from the days of Les Ambassadeurs), for the bulk of the arrangements, which feature a refreshing variety of mostly acoustic instruments. Kamalengoni, n'goni, and djembe all add to the strong Malian flavour. Arnaud Devos provides spectral piano, little touches of marimba and even a shimmer of steel drums on the gently ambling finale Here. The five female backing vocalists contribute wonderful soaring choral responses to Keita's own vocals, which are among the most understated of his lengthy career. And even though there's barely a single full-throated wail on this disc, it doesn't feel as if there's anything missing.

Perhaps most beguiling of all are the three stark solo guitar and voice tracks which punctuate the set. Ana Na Ming also appeared on Papa with rather heavy-handed kit drums, but Iniagibe and Souvent are part of an apparently huge unrecorded repertoire of songs, that Keita plays to himself in his room at night. You might like to do just the same.

Jon Lusk for fRoots 2002

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