It is easy to see why this confidently-executed and edgy album has the support of uber-cool personages such as Radio One’s Giles Peterson. Donso is the creation of French producer and DJ Pierre-Antoine Grison (aka Krazy Baldhead) who fashions a multi-layered electronic base for Malian singer Gédéon Papa Diarra, with Thomas Guillaume and Guimba Kouyaté adding threads of organic lustre on ngoni and guitar. Fans of Mamani Keita’s Electro Bamako and Yelema albums will know how the judicious application of crunchy pre-programmed beats can accentuate the repeated vocal motifs of Bambara phrasing, and Diarra’s child-like nasal tenor works in large part because of its remarkable similarity to his compatriot (Diarra lacks some of Keita’s presence, though, and so Mamani is very welcome as a backing vocalist to bolster a number of tracks).
Highlights include Mogoya, whose popping beats and squealing synths could be mistaken for a Missy Elliott/Timbaland production if it were not for the intricate buzz of ngoni working in and around it. On the propulsive Hunters a looped ngoni figure fades in and out of alternately thin and thick layers of snappy electronica. On Diya, the bassy hum of Guillaume’s donso n’goni predominates, pulling the rhythm in all sorts of interesting directions. Djandjigui is more guitar-driven, and thus most reflective of the band’s live sound. It also features Diarra’s best vocal - supple, confident, playful with the intricate use of melody. More of that next time round and Donso really will be close to an Electro Bamako II.