If you’ll pardon the football analogy for a moment, putting together a Rough Guide to the music of Mali must be the musical equivalent of naming a best ever Manchester United XI – with so much talent to choose from, how do you keep a decent balance without omitting any of the obvious greats?
Compiler Marisa Lassman's tactics are to centre the selection around the traditional Malian sound and its blues-based derivatives, with a passing nod to the golden age of grand orchestral bands and a look into the future direction of roots-based popular music in the country, the latter in the form of Issa Bagayogo's appealingly rough “techno-Issa” sound and Vieux Farka Touré's driving electric blues. Vieux is joined by father Ali Farka on Tabara, and although it's a pity that there's no place for an Ali solo effort on the compilation, his considerable influence sees him also appear on excellent form with kora master Toumani Diabaté and as the subject of nephew Afel Bocoum's earthy contribution to the collection. Elsewhere, the essential sirens of Malian music are mostly present and correct – from griotte Kandia Kouyaté's intense, declamatory shout to Oumou Sangaré's soulful, proudly feminine southern Malian Wassoulou music. Rokia Traore's here too, as are two recent mainstream media favourites, Tinariwen and Amadou and Mariam. Some compromise was always inevitable, and favourites will inevitably be missed. Kasse Mady Diabaté sneaks in as guest vocalist on the contribution from the extraordinary ngoni quartet put together by Bassekou Kouyaté, and although Salif Keita is represented in his role with Les Ambassadeurs Internationales (the token '70s big band track), there's nothing from his essential recent back-to-basics albums, or indeed his ground-breaking albums of the mid-'80s. A minor quibble that, and on the assumption that licensing issues may have contributed to omissions such as this, it has to be acknowledged that this is about as close as you could hope to get to a first-choice primer for the music of a country that's right at the top of the musical league table.
World Music Network website