Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
The jewel of West Africa is undoubtedly Mali - seat of the old Manding Empire and its sophisticated griot culture, which reverberates through every aspect of the vivid musical life of this hard land, made tolerable by great music.
Like his occasional employers the late Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate, the latter with whom he has been intimately involved over the last decade in The Symmetric Orchestra, Bassekou Kouyate draws deep from Mali’s well of acoustic music that embraces the sacred and the secular, the earthy and the sophisticated. He is a Bambara, from Segu on the banks of the Niger, famed for its rich tradition of the ngoni, the sweetly percussive four stringed lute that propels his addictive music ever forward.
This modest instrument occupies a special place in the Malian psyche, even more so than the kora, its regal 21 stringed cousin.
It was the ngoni that made the great voyage with the slave diaspora to later evolve into the banjo, the most overtly African of instruments in the music of the new world.
Four ngonis of different registers right down to bass are featured here, with nothing added but the insistent pulse of the calabash and emblematic call and response vocals. It's an intoxicating sound, a blues from before the term existed, with a slow burning intensity that builds to a groove nirvana, born of a superhuman understanding of rhythmic energy between the musicians. Soaring over the top is Bassekou, cutting loose with extravagant ngoni solos like an uninhibited jazzman, spurred on by the gutsy voice of his wife Ami, the woman they call the Tina Turner of Bamako.
With two critically acclaimed CDs under their belt and a reputation for a devastating live show, Ngoni Ba are the very essence of Malian music today, steeped in the tradition, resolutely modern, individual virtuosi that are rhythmically as one.
Bassekou's most recent release Jama Ho received a 5 star review form The Irish Times, it was described as "a vital contemporary exposition of Malian roots music"