BASSEKOU KOUYATE & NGONI BA (Mali)
WINNER - AFRICA
One of the undisputed highlights of this year's rain-sodden Womad festival in Wiltshire was a midnight feast of sound from Mali's Bassekou Kouyate and his group Ngoni ba. Accompanied by two percussionists and his gracefully dancing wife Amy Sacko on vocals, Kouyate led his immaculately attired group on the ngoni, a tiny, delicate-looking instrument that punches above its weight with sharp, scrabbling and plunking notes. The other three musicians also played ngonis of various sizes, trading piquant riffs and booming bass lines with him in a fascinating approximation of lead, rhythm and bass guitar. Even the rain couldn't break the spell they cast.
You could say it's been a good year for Bassekou Kouyate, though for someone with such an impeccable musical pedigree and experience, it's surprising how long it's taken for name to get known. Born in a small village near the city of Segu, Kouyate began learning the ngoni from his griot father at the age of 12. His first internationally released recordings were for Toumani Diabaté's Songhai 2 (1994) and Djelika (1995). He also played on the Taj Mahal/Toumani Diabaté project Kulanjan (1989), drawing attention to the ngoni's role as the ancestor of the banjo and the connections between the pentatonic Bamana music of the Segu region and American blues. More recently, Kouyate has recorded for the late Ali Farka Toure, his son Vieux Farka Toure, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Youssou N'Dour.
But it's only since the release of Segu Blue (2007) with Ngoni ba (big ngoni) that he's really begun to accumulate the praise that's been due for so long. Almost entirely acoustic, the songs on Segu Blue are largely adapted from the traditional griot repertoire and illuminate the history of the Bamana empire, which was founded as recently as 1712, and put up some of the strongest resistance to colonial powers. Having guested on so many other people's albums, Kouyate calls in a few favours himself, most notably from electric guitarist/singer Lobi Traore, and the gritty singer Zoumana Tereta and the more poised voice of Kasse Mady Diabate. For many, though, the real discovery is Amy Sacko (the Tina Turner of Mali) whose voice lights up several tracks. Behind many great behind-the-scenes men, there's a great woman.
CD Review on BBC Music
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Rev.Lewis Hiza,Dar es Salaam-Tanzania
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