Here's a timely compilation from the Rough Guide crew, no doubt aimed at potential converts to the African strain of this durable genre as a result of the recent crossover success of Tinariwen, and the critical plaudits for Ali Farka Touré's Savane album.
There are no high-falutin’ attempts at tracing the DNA of American blues through Africa here though, just a pleasant traipse through some of the common and not so common elements of the two. Artists that exemplify Mali's central role in the musical connection are present and correct, including Djelimady Tounkara, Ali Farka Touré (accompanying Corey Harris on the njarka violin for a bouncily bucolic run through of Skip James' Special Rider Blues), Oumou Sangaré and Afel Bocoum. Then there's the desert nomad blues of Etran Finatawa (the hook in to the collection for newly converted Tinariwenistas, maybe) and the driving, slow funk of Western Sahara's Mariem Hassan. Beyond these (and the Senegalese contributions – Baaba Maal and the increasingly ubiquitous Nuru Kane), it does get a wee bit tenuous in places. I wouldn't begrudge Sudanese songstress Rasha's sultry appearance on any collection, but I don't think sassy saxophone played in a minor key really counts as blues. Similarly, Ethiopia's Ayaléw Mèsfin can only really be said to qualify in the literal sense, if we call his pacey, rocking contribution rhythm and blues of sorts. These aren't bad tracks though, in fact the only really duff note throughout is poor Bob Brozman's rather contrived-sounding attempt at a deep south growl on his otherwise excellent duet with Guinea's Djeli Moussa Diawara.
There's nothing much here, then, to turn the heads of those who are already familiar with the broad blues umbrella under which many of these artists are placed, but those looking for a way in could do a lot worse than check out this interesting exploration of blues-based Africana.