Songlines Music Awards 2014 Best Artist

Best Artist: Bassekou Kouyate

Album: Jama Ko on Out Here

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artist photo © Simon Phipps

“I am apolitical,” Bassekou told Songlines in #89. But this, his last album, became political because it was recorded during the Malian coup in March 2012 that overthrew president Amadou Toumani Toure. The title-track urges people to come together and unite, while another song, ‘Sinaly’, is about Sinaly Diarra opposing forced Islamisation in the 19th century. The apolitical Bassekou ended up making an album that became very political.

The urgency and integrity of the message makes the music strong and the quality is audible even to those of us who don't understand the words. The music of Jama Ko is full of glorious instrumental virtuosity and vocal prowess (thanks to Bassekou's wife, Amy Sacko) - all traits that make Mali stand out as a musical powerhouse.

Bassekou has long been the man to call when you need a shit-hot ngoni solo, but it was Africa Express in 2006 and his 2007 album Segu Blue, with his pioneering group Ngoni ba, that first put him on the map. He's now a regal figure, but not a political one, on stages around the world.