Saturday, December 20, 2008

BARA SAMBAROU - Gambari 79 (Totolo)

Re-mastered from a three decades-old TDK cassette - and managing to retain the atmospheric echo of a late '70s Bamako ghetto blaster whilst being clean enough for every breath, string strike and background sound to be heard - Gambari is Peul griot Bara Sambarou's earthy, loquacious folk song in praise of the tradesmen who return from their travels with the high quality fabric of that name as a gift for their wives.
This 1979 live recording is renowned in Mali as much for its lyrical wit and poetry as for its music, but we non-Peul speakers have to let the hypnotic, shifting circular phrases and tapped rhythm of Bara’s rasping hoddou (a four-string lute that’s the Peul equivalent of the ngoni or xalam) and powerful declamations speak to us, which they do with a resonance that is ultimately as seductive as it is initially challenging.
It’s no real surprise to learn of the influence this rambling groove had on Ali Farka Touré – there’s more than a trace of similarity between this unadorned, bucolic music and the Ali Red and Green albums that brought him to our attention, the same flexible vocal style (from reedy, uncomplicated soulfulness to deep, sonant gravitas) and eerie resemblance to American acoustic blues (although there’s no clue that Bara had heard any of that music when this recording was made).
Two more recordings of the same song make up the rest of the album. There’s a second, ‘laid-back’ version that stretches the song a further five minutes to a whole half hour of arguably even more sharply struck and powerfully delivered narrative. And a modern ‘soul’ mix rounds off the album slightly incongruously, although the beats and horns do ride the hoddou groove in a surprisingly effective way.
Accompanying the CD is a DVD detailing how journalist Jean Ducasse tracked down Bara Sambarou to his village in the Mopti region 750km north of Bamako, having heard Gambari playing in a Bamako market. Sambarou’s well into his 60s now and still full of vitality, making a decent living out of his praise songs, with the dexterity and vocal authority thankfully undiminished by age.

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