Thursday, October 02, 2008


The second album from the former Afro-Celt Sound System balafon and kora player from Guinea treads a sunny, upbeat path through a modern European take on West African music, his sprightly way with tunes producing a set of songs that are easy listening in the best sense of the phrase. Having put together a smart mixed African/European band (joined by very 'authentic' sounding female backing vocalists from Belgium), a whole range of musical styles are tried out, usually underpinned by funky rhythm guitar, percussion and N'Faly on kora or balafon and vocals. His voice is smooth without being overly impressive (hence its wise use as additional instrument rather than as a focal point) and he gives ample space to the other instrumentalists and singers, allowing tracks like the dance number Anyafo and the ambitious up-tempo re-working of traditional Mandé song Mali Sadio – here translated rather too literally as “Love Hyppo” - to stake out territory that is neither reliant on traditional norms nor too contrived in its modernity.
If there's a complaint, it's that the sheer variety of styles means Tunya sags somewhat midway through as acapella gospel-lite clashes with an over-long drum track, although the experimental approach is rewarded on the album's closer Kora Ballade, on which Kouyaté frames his instrument in a sweeping chamber orchestra setting that's admirably restrained in its ambition. Kouyaté has a fine ear for a melody and an impressive group of musicians in support, and if he over stretches himself and them at times on Tunya, the rewards of that approach are worth the occasional risk taken.


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