The first two albums out of the stable of Salif Keita’s new Wanda studio and label illustrate the singer’s commitment to traditional Manding music by showcasing two performers of the donso (hunter) music of Mali.
The Coulibaly clan is pre-eminent amongst the ancient hunter families of Mali, the name every bit as noble and prestigious as that of the Keitas in the rest of the country. Adama Coulibaly plays a griot-style rôle in the culture, driving stark, insistent rhythms with his donso ngoni (the hunters' six-stringed version of the ngoni, also known as the simbi), alongside bolon (bass kora), karigan (metal scraper) and calabash as he declaims lyrics about the key facets of hunting life (friendship, prudence and respect for elder hunters) in a deep, rich tenor with suitably resonant male backing vocal support. The result is atmospheric, hypnotic, and with the timeless but contemporary quality which was a hallmark of Salif Keita's back-to-roots albums. The songs here possess a harsher, less immediate edge than Keita's recordings, however, with circular, trance-like rhythms and incantations holding atavistic sway within Djely Moussa Kouyaté's discreetly contemporary arrangements, with a sprinkling of nagging melodies and judicious inclusion of electric guitar from Kouyaté helping to retain interest in this faithful recreation of a fascinating brand of traditional West African music. One warning for anyone thinking of checking the album out at their nearest listening post: the cruellest of tricks has been played on Adama, as the album opens with what is ostensibly a duet with Salif Keita, but which would not sound out of place on any of Keita's recent works. Adama Coulibaly is a fine singer, but nobody should be made to follow the Golden Voice of Mali on their own album.
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine.