Compilers Christian Scholze and Jean Trouillet have taken their time in putting together the third of these excellent compilations of African blues-tinted balladry (forgiveness comes easily - they've been busy furnishing us with the similarly well-packaged and engaging Golden Afrique series in the meantime), and in so doing have managed to maintain the exemplary standard and seamless sequencing of the album's predecessors.
The title "desert blues" must be taken with an even larger pinch of sand this time round, as the compilers stretch what had already become a loose theme beyond West and North African countries all the way as far as Ethiopia, even making a brief foray across the Atlantic (American Markus James sounding like a worthy surrogate for desert blues champion Robert Plant).
But the mood is set in the familiar confines of Mali, Djelimady Tounkara's playful Manding acoustica flowing naturally into the cool spaghetti-Western vibe of another ex-Rail Bander Idrissa Soumaoro. And Mali is heavily represented throughout as you might expect, from the best-known (Oumou, Toumani, Ali Farka), to the less-known (guitarist N'Gou Bagayoko, upstaged by guest singer and daughter Ramata Doussou). Senegal and Niger are well represented too, and there's a welcome dash of North African cool (Souad Massi's aching, knee-weakening Raoui gets well-overdue inclusion), and that trip out East pays dividends with two Gigi tracks, plus the Sudanese song Eywat Setenafegagn, interpreted by Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya (it might have been better to have dropped one of the Gigi tracks for a bone fide Sudanese artist, but that's a minor gripe).
If the choices are representative of any trends in this broad musical area, then there has been a move recently to a more experimental approach. Rokia Traoré glides through Bownboï ably supported by the avant garde string ensemble Kronos Quartet; Tunisian oud maestro Dhafer Yousef floats delicate notes around trumpeter Markus Stockhausen and vocals so delicate they might break; and UK-based Senegalese artist Seckou Keita weaves kora, violin and double-bass in and out of the plaintive, bluesy tones of sister Binta Susso. All of which fit in neatly with the more straightforward tracks around them - the mark of a successful compilation, consistently engaging from start to finish.
Network Medien website
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine.