We've heard plenty of reggae, soul, hip-hop and rock artists from all parts of the world singing the praises of Barack Obama in recent months, but Fula Flute do it in proper West African praise-song style, and the stirring Mandé tune Obama opens this consistently excellent second album from the group of North Americans and West Africans. The luminescent Abdoulaye Diabaté - a US-resident Malian singer who can hold his own against any from his native continent - extols the virtues of the new President over a swaying latticework of kora, ngoni, balafon and the breathy, raw sound of Bailo Bah's tambin flute. Fashioned from a conical vine, the instrument has a tremulous, imperfect quality that gives depth to the dozen tunes on Mansa America. Bah sings too, his voice a lighter, airier complement to Diabaté's, and at times a squealing adjunct to the wilder flute forays.
There's a seductive, pulsing rhythm throughout, with French-Canadian member Sylvain Feroux (also flute and vocals) and American Peter Fand (bass, bolon harp) as integral a part of the groove as the West Africans, a credit to the gratifying thread of natural musical empathy that runs through the collection - no attempt to bolt styles together here, this is straight down the line traditional Malian/Guinean fare all the way. With occasional added colour from a small horn section and guest ngoni player Cheikh Hamala Diabaté, Mansa America holds the attention exquisitely from first to last.