Friday, December 22, 2006

VARIOUS ARTISTS - West Africa Unwired (World Music Network)

Th!nk global is yet another new concept from World Music Network, dealing with worthy issues such as reducing poverty, defending human rights and protecting the environment. Their introduction to unwired (as in ‘unplugged’) West African music was conceived in conjunction with Amnesty International and Oxfam, and therefore serves as a good way for newcomers to salve their consciences whilst getting a taste of the vast musical treasures on offer in the region.
Compiler Phil Stanton has done an exemplary job at covering a wide range of traditional West African styles, from Saharan blues, through the kora music of the griots, to Wassoulou dance music and guitar-led Manding rhythms.
The bar is set almost impossibly high straight away by the inclusion of Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck’s perfectly honed duet Maacina Tooro, from their classic 1989 album Djam Leelii. But the standard and variety of the rest of the compilation is good enough to keep the selection interesting. Established artists such as kora maestro Toumani Diabaté (with a track from his landmark New Ancient Strings album with Ballaké Sissoko), ex-Super Rail Band superstar Mory Kanté, and Malian blues legend Boubacar Traoré were always going to be highlights, but I have to confess to a having a brief moment of cynicism when I saw recent World Music Network débutants Etran Finatawa, Daby Balde and Nuru Kane amongst the other artists. But their contributions and that of other lesser-know names such as Issa Bagayogo - with his stripped down version of the "Techno" Issa sound - and Dieneba Seck's earthy South Malian dance music, hold up very well amongst a very consistent set of tunes. It’s a very tidy collection indeed.

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