Prince Diabaté is a Guinean who resides in New Mexico, and he has returned to his native country to work with local musicians on this atmospheric semi-acoustic CD. Using a mix of traditional songs and original compositions, Diabaté neatly keeps a foot in both the traditional and modern camps, making for a satisfying showcase of contemporary West African roots music.
Kanté Manfila is co-producer and arranger, and there is something of the Malian legend’s classic album Tradition about the whole approach to the album. From the ripple of descending balafon notes that usher in interlocking acoustic guitar melodies and soulful female harmonies, to Diabaté’s subtle kamele n’goni and kora embellishments and rich, woody timbre of a voice, there’s an effortlessly relaxed feeling to the recordings.
There is some exceptional interplay between the instruments on the first track Horoya, with the drop-dead gorgeous female harmonies a perfect foil for Prince Diabaté’s cool croon. If nothing quite matches that opener, there is plenty more to commend the album, most notably the title track, a lively dance number that rocks along helped by the rare appearance of electric guitar and bass. The rousing call-and response between strings and voices on Herakoura elegantly ride waves of percussion, and on the mellower side Mignabele is a shorter, quieter version of the traditional song called Miyaabele on Baaba Maal’s mighty Missing You album. Diabaté can’t quite make the song ring out like the Senegalese star does, but with kora to the fore, this is a serene new take on the song.
Also worthy of note is the flute playing of Becky Allen and Sadio Dallo, which adds a welcome flightiness at crucial points on many of the tracks.
A fine album, then, and if not quite in the top league of West African acoustica, it is certainly pushing hard for a place there during its best moments.