It's been quite a while, but Africa's first-ever all-female group are back with a vengeance - retour en force! as they announce at the start of the album - with a funky, feisty collection of old-style Guinean big band grooves. This was the original girl-power group, coming together in the early '60s (whilst serving in the National Police) and by the early '70s they were blasting out a high-energy blend of vocals, interweaving electric guitar, throbbing bass lines and brass arrangements to get you off your feet and onto the dance-floor.
The line-up of the orchestra has been changed regularly over the years, but Wamato finds it retaining all the familiar elements of a sound that must surely be the loosest, most life-affirming music on the planet performed by an orchestra that includes Commandants, Captains and Lieutenants in its line-up.
Those officers get us off to a rocking start on the opener (and title-track), Yaya Kouyaté's ever-shifting guitar lines underpinning a snappy beat while the singers trade bluesy vocals with each other and with saxophonists Djenabou Ba and Mariama Cissé (the latter's alto sax is a satisfyingly beefy presence throughout the album). Guitarist Kouyaté is a revelation throughout, whether it be delivering a jaunty soukous vibe on Deni Wana (ably supported by rhythm guitarist N'Sira Tounkara) or ringing embellishments to songs such as the standout praise song Kania.
A couple of the songs don't work quite so well - particularly when the orchestra strays into less familiar territory such as the French-language cha-cha-cha, Meilleurs Voeux - and the horn arrangements start to verge on the samey over a dozen or so tracks. But with the constant presence of half a dozen seductive vocalists (M'Mah Sylla's clear, powerful tone probably the best of the lot) riding a consistently invigorating sound, it's easy to overlook the reservations and just let the celebratory atmosphere take over. Welcome back, girls!
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine.