Sunday, September 27, 2009

ISSA SOW - Doumale: La Musique D’Issa Sow (Homerecords)

Issa Mbaye Diary Sow is a 62-year-old Fulani, originally from Senegal but now based in Brussels, who learnt to play the nianiooru (one-string fiddle, also known as a riti) when working as a shepherd, before going on to play with many of his country’s big names, including Youssou NDour and Baaba Maal. Issa contributed some haunting high-pitched moments to Malick Pathé Sow’s well-received Maayo Men album of traditional Fula music earlier this year, but Issa’s sound is rawer and even more traditional than that. Issa Sow has a dextrous, rangy approach to what is by necessity a limited sound, pulling out long, scratchily melodic notes (as opposed to the harsher, short attacking style of Gambian riti player Juldeh Camara, for instance) which bounce along on the sparest underpinning of percussion, tinkling hoddu lute and acoustic guitar (and occasionally kora).
Unfortunately the French-language (and hard to read – tiny font on black background is a no-no!) sleeve-notes give no clue as to who sings on which track, but five different singers are utilised, all relatively unknown but very impressive (Malick amongst them), whether it be a seasoned, commanding earthiness or something smoother, more melodic.
It’s all very appealing, but made all the better by the enhancement provided to about half the thirteen tracks by stabbing, sweeping string arrangements in the style of a fully-fledged Egyptian orchestra. I’m not sure how much a true part of the Fula tradition these splendidly realised Arabic strings play, but they add a drama and depth and are totally convincing despite being arranged and played by north European musicians. Issa Sow’s nianiooru dives in and out of the orchestrated passages, rolling over circular hoddu phrases and call and response vocals. Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar meets Afel Bocoum – it’s surprising and stirring stuff on an otherwise gritty and ear-opening album.

This review first appeared in fRoots magazine

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