Words by Rose Skelton
This brave and original kora rock band from Guinea have made both startlingly extraordinary and some plainly nondescript albums, but at their very best have proved to be the masters of hair-raising forays into electric rock and funk, blended with reggae and traditional Mandinka melodies. Lead kora (harp-lute) player Ba is a talented songwriter of tradition and vision, with a great voice. This is the band’s fourth international album.
Nimissa grows stronger at every listen. It is rich in melody, rhythm and meaning and riven with funk and groove, leading the listener repeatedly in and out of the comfort zone. ‘Politiki’, railing against Guinean politicians who destroy unity, sets off at a fast ska beat and heralds the trademark electric kora riffs of young player Seckou Kouyaté. At a different pace, ‘Loumo’ tells in delicate tones a charming story about the West African weekly market. The song, based on an acoustic guitar melody from Abdoulaye Kouyaté, paints a picture of the rhythms of one of these events and is washed with a delicious nostalgia.
A new sound in the band is Ba’s eight-stringed kamalengoni harp which, alongside acoustic guitar, weaves a rocking bluesy tune on ‘N’goni Ba’. After this musical whirlwind, ‘Djeli Fatouma’, a tribute to Ba’s griot grandmother, is like sinking into a warm bath. It’s a straight traditional Mandinka song, but features snippets of young Seckou’s mesmerising voice which pops up all too rarely on the band’s albums. Nimissa is mellow and mature, another high-quality adventurous leap into the world of modern Mandinka music.