There’s no more befitting a description than ngara, “master Jeli”, for the force of musical presence that is Kandia Kouyaté, although her rich, booming voice and domineering position as one of Mali’s leading griots suffered a setback five years ago when she suffered a stroke. This re-release of some of her older recordings underlines the impact she made prior to her unfortunate bout of ill-health.
The first five of the seven tracks here were recorded in
Kandia never sounded better than on these less cluttered recordings – her voice is expressive, steeped in history and lightly sanded by experience and emotion but with a strong sense of melody when set against a sweetened, uplifting choir of female backing vocals (an arrangement pioneered by Kandia, and taken for granted now).
And there’s lots of space for the exemplary musicians (Moriba Keita on ngoni is in supreme form) in the sparse, echoing chamber-style arrangements. Hypnotic stuff.
In addition to those five entrancing tracks, there are two lo-fi recordings presumably taken straight off two of the many cassette tapes Kandia Kouyaté has recorded over the years. Sarama is a grainy recording made in
It is said by some that you really need to understand Kandia Kouyaté’s words to fully appreciate her power, as they carry a resonance and message like no other. Maybe so, but the voice at its best - as it was in this period - speaks volumes enough to this listener.
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine