Saturday, July 31, 2010


The radiant Foune Diarra will surely be one of Mali’s next stars. Possessing a voice that’s powerful yet as sinuous as the slight frame that betrays her past as a dancer with the Malian Ballet, she dazzles and seduces with a mixture of supple soulful charm and rousing declamation worthy of an Oumou Sangaré or an Amy Sacko. Backed by the dry, chirpy strains of kamele ngoni player Kissim Sidibé (no mean vocalist himself) and Alhassane Sissoko’s animated djembe drum, the Foune Diarra Trio is an ensemble to be reckoned with. But that’s not the half of it. Bambara meets Breton on N’Diale with celebrated fiddler Jacky Molard commanding his quartet of violin, double bass, accordion and saxophone to lay an impressive array of European folk idioms over the core West African base. Celtic jaunts straddle Brittany and Ireland and Balkan textures come and go in a melange that could have amounted to bit of an unholy mess in less assured hands. Instead it all knits together with seemingly ease, these seven consummate musicians unafraid to let the tunes take as long as required to unravel (seven minutes seems an optimum time), with much of the impetus coming from the restrained Gallic jazz saxophone that Yannick Jory interlaces with the overall texture. A fine album from start to finish.

These cross-cultural collaborations arguably miss more than they hit so we are doubly blessed this month because the meeting of Senegalese singer/kora player Diabel Cissokho and former Eric Bibb sideman Ramon Goose has much to recommend it too. This one comes from the blues end of the spectrum with Goose playing a mean old slide guitar as well as predominantly tasty acoustic picking that nestles comfortably alongside Cissokho’s engaging and economical kora melodies. Diabel has a chocolate- rich voice that’s well-suited to these rootsy mid-tempo workouts, and Ramon has a decent crack at injecting some chunky blues-rock riffs to the tougher moments. Electric bass, drums and calabash complete the picture and it all comes together most effectively on Yeurmande, a flavoursome mix of slide guitar, mellow kora and undulating Mandinka rhythms. There are some ho-hum blues-rock moments too but it’s a mostly successful outing.

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