I love the diversity of Malian music. Mali doesn’t just produce great footballers (Bakary Sako and Nouha Dicko for instance) but has a huge range of musical talent. I’ve been lucky enough to see the late great Ali Farke Toure with his own delta blues and Tinariwen with their dusty desert sounds. There are many that I haven’t seen (Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate for instance) but I can now add Bassekou Kouyate to my “seen” list. Mali has been going through troubled times recently with military coups and fighting between the Toureg and Islamist factions.
Bassekou played Elektrowerkz, an old Victorian factory behind the Angel Underground station with his band, Ngoni Ba. Ngoni is a traditional Malian lute and “Ba” translates as “Power”. It’s a family affair with the band consisting of brothers, sons and nephews and also Bassekou’s wife, Amy Sacko who handles the main vocals. All sing back up though. There are two jeli ngonis which play quicksilver melodies and two larger ngonis which effectively act as bass guitars.
The gig was a launch party for his new album, “Ba Power”, the fourth he has released to a European market. This has a rockier sound than his previous albums, emphasised by the use of distortion and wah-wah effects on his ngoni playing. This produced an album that in parts is reminiscent of Robert Plant’s recent album with his Sensational Spaceshifters, which isn’t necessarily surprising as Plant’s percussionist, Dave Smith, appears on the album.
Here’s a taster for the album which is out now on Glitterbeat. This track is “Siran Fen”, which opens the album and sets the tone of what follows.
The live show ratcheted this back a notch and felt more familiar in feel to his previous albums. There was a greater emphasis on the more traditional rhythms and a more acoustic sound. However from time to time, Bassekou was able to rock out a little, with his foot on the monitor. There were bent notes and blues notes and when the effects were applied, the electrification was stunning. Bassekou commented on how the ndoni was really part of the family of string instruments including the banjo and guitar, all of which helped make music common to differing parts of the world.
It was a well honed show and a packed venue were kept enthralled for almost two hours on a Sunday evening. A personal highlight was “Poye”, which Kouyate dedicated to BB King. This was a slower blues, based on a single chord much the way that John Lee Hooker used to. In introducing the song, he paid tribute to his grandparents and other ancestors who were Griots singing for the Malian royalty. Taj Mahal sang on the original album. Here’s a performance from when Bassekou played the Proms in 2009.
It was a great evening and whilst it wasn’t quite as transcendent as some of other Malian musicians I’ve seen, it was no less entertaining. If you want to find out more, there was an excellent interview here in the Quietus. The album is available from Glitterbeat here and from Rough Trade here. There’s some great music coming out of Africa at present which hopefully I can get to see and hear more of in the not too distant future.